By Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers Learn to create dynamic accompaniment parts in any setting. Contents Introduction The Basics Less is MoreDeveloping Bass LinesMutingPower ChordsSus Chord EmbellishmentsPercussive GroovesRock RhythmDropped-D TuningAccompanying a WaltzArranging with a Capo Explore New Sounds Cross-Picking AccompanimentFlatpicking FillsMelodic RiffsHybrid PickingPianistic PickingOpen-String Chords Up the NeckMovable Shapes Without the BarreDropped-D in Other KeysLow-Bass TuningsPartial Capoing About the Author Introduction No doubt, strumming is a potent technique on the guitar—it’s a quick and natural motion, it cuts through, and it adds a percussive punch along with the chord. All you need are a few chord shapes and a simple strum pattern and, boom, you can start playing songs. That accessibility is one of thebeauties of the guitar. Over time, though, the limitations of strumming as your go-to accompaniment technique become apparent. The fact that strumming is easy to do also makes it easy to overdo. Banging out thick chords throughout a song can overwhelm the vocal and actually mask the rhythmic feel. Strong melodies, lyrics, and grooves need breathing room, and songs also need contrast. Strumming at full blast throughout a song, and especially doing so in song after song in performance, will wear out everyone’s ears—plus it gives you nowhere to go, in terms of volume and intensity, but down. The good news is that all sorts of sounds and textures for accompaniment are, literally, close at hand. With a little more attention to your fretting and picking hand technique, you can go beyond constant strumming and create guitar parts that are more dynamic, supple, and nuanced, both harmonically and rhythmically. That’s the goal of this guide: to expand your accompaniment toolkit so you can not only vary the guitar part within a song, but change up the sound from song to song and keep them from blurring together. When you’re the only instrumentalist accompanying your own voice or another singer, your guitar is essentially the band. Beyond Strumming aims to help you become a more versatile band—and, most importantly, make the songs shine. https://vimeo.com/701465788 Less Is More It may seem counterintuitive, but one of the most effective ways to improve your accompaniment is simply playing less—and embracing the silence between notes and beats. As singer-songwriter Martin Sexton, a true groove master and one-man band on guitar, once told me, that’s where the power lies. “Earlier on in my solo days, I tried to fill every space, because oh my god, there’s not a bass player, there’s not a drummer, there’s not a lead guitar player, there’s not a piano player,” he said. “So I played a lot, and it sucked. And I learned that silence is my ally, that space is my friend. If I just play a chord and let it ring for a while, it ends up being more important than what I don’t play in that space.” The agenda for this lesson is just to open up some of that space, taking a great traditional song and trying out a few accompaniment techniques that make more from less. The song that you’ll accompany is the spiritual “Oh Mary, Don’t You Weep,” which predates the Civil War and has been recorded by artists ranging from gospel vocal groups like the Swan Silvertones and Golden Gate Quartet to Mississippi John Hurt, Aretha Franklin, the Kingston Trio, Pete Seeger, and Bruce Springsteen. Interestingly, the melody of “Oh Mary” has been set in both major and minor keys; this arrangement goes with the minor, as in Springsteen’s version on the Seeger Sessions album. In Example 1, you’ll find the first verse and chorus. Both sections of the song use the same chord progression, with just three chords: Em, Am, and B7. Play and sing through the example, strumming downstrokes on every beat and adding an occasional eighth-note down-up strum. (If singing this song in Em isn’t a good fit for your voice, try capoing up to find a better key.) This is our starting point—an accompaniment part that’s functional but not very interesting or musical. Let’s get to work making it better. Create Space As a first step, play through the song’s progression as in Example 2, strumming only once for each new chord and letting the strings ring while singing a verse or the chorus on top. Listen to how the melody sounds with all that space—nice, right? Whenever you’re working up an accompaniment part, playing through the song with one strum per chord change (or per measure) is a good way to cleanse the palate and start hearing new possibilities. (Hat tip to the versatile songwriter/guitarist Cliff Eberhardt, who uses this exercise in workshops.) Play Bass Building from Example 2, add a bluesy monotone bass between the chord strums, as in Example 3. At the same time, reduce the chords—take out some of the treble strings for a tighter sound. Let the chords ring through the measure over the bass pulse. This sparse part is more than enough to keep the song rolling. In Example 4, switch to an alternating bass, with bass notes on beats 1 and 3 and chords on 2 and 4. Hold down the full chord shapes but strum only the strings shown—two or three at a time. (Don’t worry too much about always strumming the exact strings indicated. As long as you’re holding the chord shape, you can play other groupings of strings, but try not to hit more than two or three at a time.) Use a light touch with the pick—particularly on the eighth-note upstrokes in measures 2, 4, 5, 6, and 8. The harmonic information is all there in these reduced chord voicings, but with less clutter. Keep Reducing In Example 5, thin out the part even further by taking out more strums. In bars 1, 3, 5, 6, and 8, strum a chord on beat 2 and let it ring for a half note—right over beat 3. Notice that the rhythm does not halt when you skip a beat. Once you’ve established the pulse, everyone will hear/feel it even when you don’t play it. When you leave some things unstated, listeners get the pleasant job of filling in the gaps.When you are picking chord tones like this, you actually don’t need to strum full chords at all. Through Example 6, play mostly double stops (two notes at a time) and single notes and, except in measure 7, leave beat 3 untouched. This creates an airy sound that still carries the song quite well.You may notice one departure from the underlying chord shapes in Example 6: at the end of measure 3, you play the third string open even though with a B7 you’d normally be holding down the second fret. How come? Because you’re hinting at the melody, which hits the G note in that spot. Doubling or echoing the melody like this is a great accompaniment technique—keep an ear out for opportunities to do it. Mute It So far you’ve focused on thinning out the accompaniment by playing fewer strings. Another approach is to shorten the duration of notes. Try it in Example 7, which employs chord voicings on only the bottom four strings. While the chords are notated with quarter notes (and some eighth notes), play them shorter than written—mute each chord quickly for a swing-jazz–style rhythmic feel. Later in this guide you’ll find a more complete intro to muting, but the basic idea is to mute with both hands. Relax your fretting-hand grip right after you strum, while keeping your fingertips in the chord shape. Flatten out your fretting fingers a bit to touch and mute adjacent strings. Any fingers you’re not using in the chord shape (for instance, the thumb and index in the Em, if you’re fretting with your middle and ring) can help by muting open strings. At the same time, use palm muting with your picking hand. Rest the side of your palm on the strings near the bridge while you play. If you lift your hand to strum a little harder, bring your palm down onto the strings as part of the strumming motion. The net effect of all this muting is to make each chord punchy and percussive—and let the vocal soar above. The B7 in the second half of measure 2, with F in the bass, is a classic swing voicing—a very useful movable shape for accompaniment. At the end of measures 3 and 5, notice that some open strings are slipped in between chords. Play these with a soft upstroke—they’re mostly intended to facilitate the move to the next chord shape. Now try muting with the monotone or alternating bass styles. In Example 8, apply the same muting techniques as in Example 7 on both bass notes and chords. Try keeping your picking hand palm on the strings for the entire example, for continual muting. To spice things up, I added a bit more bass movement. While holding down the Em and Am shapes in measures 4 and 5, grab the sixth string bass note at the third fret with your fourth finger. Mix and Match In practice, the best approach is to vary the accompaniment according to the flow of the song, rather than strictly follow one pattern the whole way. That’s what you do in Example 9, which runs through the 16-bar “Oh Mary” verse and chorus form. During the verse, play staccato—with a lot of muting—using various patterns introduced in the previous examples. Then, in the chorus, let the strings ring more for a nice contrast and to give the centerpiece of the song a dynamic lift. As you play and sing “Oh Mary” now, compare the sound and feel of the accompaniment with chock-a-block strumming. The song sounds more relaxed and natural. The groove sways instead of rigidly marching along, and the vocal stands out more easily. And you’ve got dynamic headroom: if you want to make the sound bigger and louder, you’ve got unused strings and plenty of room to do so; and if you want to bring the sound down further (maybe even to whole-note strums or just bass notes), you can do that too. Apply this less-is-more approach to other songs in your repertoire, and you’ll hear how they can take flight when the guitar supports rather than weighs them down. https://vimeo.com/701463005 Developing Bass Lines In Less Is More, you incorporated some simple bass lines into your accompaniment parts. The main goal was to thin out the chords and the strumming, but bass lines do more than provide open space—they add movement and keep things interesting even when the chords aren’t changing much. Just as an actual bass player does in a band, bass lines played on guitar connect the song’s rhythmic pulse with its chord progression. This lesson takes a closer look at the low end. You’ll learn how to locate bass notes for common chords and string them together so you can put them to work in all sorts of songs, chord progressions, and keys. Find Your Bass Notes To develop bass lines, you first need a good handle on what the key bass notes are for any chord. A triad, the most basic chord, consists of three notes: the root, the third, and the fifth. Any of these can serve as a bass note. Example 1 shows where you can find the root, third, and fifth bass notes on the C, G, D, A, E, and F major chords. For the most part, you can continue to hold down the chord position while you play the bass notes, with the exception of the thirds for D, A, E, and F, which require a fingering change. The most important of these three potential bass notes is the root. That’s the note on which the chord is built, and it gives the chord its name—so the root of a G chord is a G note, the root of a C chord is C, etc. In a chord progression, playing a root bass note by itself can be enough to establish a chord. Check out Example 2, a 3/4 pattern that goes from G to C to D. Each measure opens with a root bass note. Notice that in the first measure of C, for instance, the C bass note on the first beat establishes that you’ve switched to a C chord even before you strum the whole chord. The same is true for the G and D—the root bass note can be a stand-in for the whole chord. After the root, the next most important bass note is the fifth. Lots of bass lines simply alternate between the root and the fifth, as in Example 3. Try taking any of the chords in Example 1 and playing the same alternating pattern with the root and fifth bass notes: root, strum, fifth, strum. You can also use thirds as bass notes along with the roots and fifths. As a bass note, the third sounds less resolved than the root or the fifth. Listen for the difference in Example 4, which uses roots, thirds, and fifths as bass notes. In any sort of bass pattern, the rule of thumb is to play the root on the first beat of every new chord, to establish the change in harmony, and wind up on the root at the end of the progression for a feeling of resolution. Minor Chord Bass Notes Now let’s look at the bass notes for some minor chords: Am, Em, Dm, Bm, and F♯m. As you can see in Example 5, once again the roots, thirds, and fifths are the possible bass notes, but with a minor chord you have a minor third rather than a major third. Try alternating minor-chord bass notes and strums in Example 6, a progression with Am, Dm, and Em chords. Example 7 uses both major and minor chords and a mix of roots, thirds, and fifths as bass notes. On the Am, play the E bass note on the fourth string—an octave up from the open sixth string. This fourth-string E sounds good leading to the D bass note that follows. On the D chord, play the F♯ (the third) on the sixth string on the last beat with your index finger. That low F♯ makes a good transition to the sixth-string G in the last measure. When you're building bass lines, look for ways to set up chord changes like this, by using a bass note a half step )one fret) or whole step (two frets) away from the root of the next chord. Add Scale Notes The root, third, and fifth are not the only available bass notes—you can also use other notes in the scale of whatever key you’re in. Let’s say, for instance, you’re playing the chord progression in Example 2 in the key of G. In creating a bass line, you can use notes from the G major scale. Example 8 shows the notes of the G major scale from the low E string up to E on the fourth string, the register from which you’re mostly likely to choose bass notes. You can also use these same bass notes for the key of Em (which is known as the relative minor of G major because it has the same notes). Check out one possible bass-line/chord pattern in Example 9. Example 10 shows scale notes you can use for bass lines in the other keys covered in this lesson: C (or Am, its relative minor), D (Bm), A (F♯m), E (C♯m), and F (Dm). These notes again range from the open sixth string to the second fret of the fourth string, except for the key of F—in that case the notes go up to F on the third fret of the fourth string (because F is the root). The next series of examples show chord progressions in each of the keys covered in Example 10, with bass lines that use notes from the corresponding scale. All are designed to be looped for practicing. Example 11 is in the key of Am and uses short bass lines that lead to the root of each new chord. Next up is a short progression in D, Example 12, that may remind you of doo-wop. In this case, the bass line leads into each chord from below. Example 13 shows how a bass line can dress up a simple progression in the key of A. Take this at a slow tempo. In Example 14, stay put on an E chord. Rather than strumming the chord, play a piano-style boogie bass line—again, using notes of the major scale. The bass line includes all three notes of an E major chord (root, third, and fifth), so you can hear the chord even though you’re not playing all the notes simultaneously. Example 15 is in the key of D minor and has a similar feel to Santana’s “Black Magic Woman.” On both the Dm and Am chords, keep your fingers in the chord position as you play the bass line below. Note the fingerings: fret the Dm with your first, fourth, and second fingers, so that your third finger is free to grab bass notes on the fifth string. On the Am, fret the bass notes on the sixth and fifth strings with your fourth finger while continuing to hold an Am position. Creating Patterns To wrap up this lesson, play a longer progression that uses short bass lines to add movement, set up the chord changes, and create a much more interesting sound than plain strumming alone. Example 16 is in the key of Em. Throughout, a two- or three-note bass line leads to the root bass note of the next chord. Another recurring element here is the use of eighth-note hammer-ons. On the Em, hammer onto the fifth (B); on the G, the third (also B); and on the C, the third (E). The best kinds of bass/chord parts have this kind of internal logic—certain rhythms and patterns recur throughout, applied to different chords. Each example in this lesson shows just one of many bass lines you could use for the same chord progression. Once you have a handle on your bass-note options, try making your own variations. Take any short chord progression (from one of the examples here or from any song you know) and see how many different bass lines you can find. Rhythm playing is especially fun—for you and anyone listening—when you develop the ability to change bass lines on the fly. As you work on developing bass lines, one great approach is to start by playing only a bass line, with no chords. Make sure you play the root on the first beat of each chord change and, using the tools described above, search for good-sounding lines that connect the root of one chord to the next. Once you’ve got a fluid bass line, you can try interspersing chord strums here and there, but you may find that you don’t need many, because the bass line already does a good job of establishing the chord progression—in a very economical, understated, and grooving way. The bass doesn’t typically get the spotlight, but when it’s played well, everyone feels it. https://vimeo.com/701461583 Muting The first job of playing guitar is to make those strings ring, with a clear and rich tone. The second job is to make them stop. This second aspect of playing, controlling how long notes ring by way of muting, is often underappreciated, yet it’s essential in every kind of music. Muting adds necessary space between the notes and makes melodies and rhythms pop. Leo Kottke, whose signature sound is built with extraordinary control over the duration of notes, once memorably commented in Acoustic Guitar magazine that letting the strings ring all the time and bleed into each other is “like drooling—there’s a beginning to everything but no end.” To minimize the drool factor, you can employ several techniques for muting on guitar, using both the fretting and picking hands. This lesson runs through the basics and gives you practice muting single notes as well as chords. Fretted Notes Fretted notes are the simplest to mute on guitar. To cut a note short, you just stop pressing down with your fretting finger and leave it resting on the string. Practice that in Example 1, a little melody forever lodged in my head from high school sports games. In the last measure, instead of shouting “Go big red!” (or your team of choice), strum a G barre chord. I’m using this example because the notes are cleanly separated and therefore require muting. Even where there are no rests between notes, pay attention to the staccato marks (dots), which mean play those notes shorter than indicated—a staccato quarter note should sound more like an eighth note followed by an eighth rest, for instance. Pick the note (whether with a flatpick or your fingers) and then quickly release your fretting finger to stop it from ringing. Make sure you don’t lift your finger completely off the string; that may start it ringing again. The same goes for the G barre chord: after you strum, release your fretting fingers right away but hold the shape, lightly touching the strings. Follow the suggested fingerings: use your first finger for notes on the second fret, second finger for the third fret, etc. This keeps you in position and gives you practice muting with all your fingers. Open Strings Muting open strings is a bit trickier—you need to touch the ringing open string with one (or more) of your fingers. Try Example 2. The notes are exactly the same as in Example 1, but the line now includes the open fourth and third strings. To mute the open-string notes, touch the string with your first (fretting) finger. It’s harder to play open-string notes staccato compared with fretted notes, but you’ll get better with practice. Be sure to keep your fretting fingers close to the strings when you’re not using them so you can quickly put them into service for muting—this is a good all-around playing habit to minimize the movement of your fingers. Now play the same pattern in the keys of A (Example 3) and E (Example 4). In Example 3, keep your first finger in position for a barred A shape at the second fret, and after you pick the open fifth string, mute it with your third finger. In the second measure, mute the open fourth string with your first finger, and on the final A chords, mute the open strings with any free fingers. (If you use a first-finger barre for A, your second, third, and fourth fingers are available for muting.) Just lay them lightly across the strings. Use a similar strategy in Example 4. When you’re holding down an E chord, use your fourth finger to mute the open strings. Rocking Rhythm The next example uses a clave rhythm pattern, a.k.a. the Bo Diddley beat. This variant is a bit like Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” as played by the Grateful Dead. The groove relies on chord chops separated by rests, so muting is essential. First play the pattern using G and C barre chords in Example 5. As with Example 1, muting is straightforward because all the notes are fretted. On the C chord, use a third-finger barre at the fifth fret so you can shift quickly back to the G. In Example 6, try the same pattern in the key of E, where you’ve got to deal again with open strings. On the E chord, use your fourth finger to mute the open strings. (You can also get your fretting hand’s thumb into the action, by reaching around the edge of the fingerboard to touch the sixth string.) For a little extra help with muting, flatten out your fretting fingers while remaining in the E shape so they touch the open treble strings. With the quick change from E to A, try using a third-finger barre for A, as you did with the C in the previous example. That way you can keep most of the fingers in position for the E shape. In the last four measures of the example, shift the pattern over to A and D chords. Reggae is good for muting practice because it’s all about staccato chops on beats 2 and 4 with rests in between. Check out Example 7, which moves between Gm and Cm barre chords—think Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff.” Again, barre chords make for simple muting, so for a little extra challenge try Example 8—the same pattern with open chords in the key of E minor. If you fret the Em chord with your first and second fingers, you can use your third and fourth for muting. On the Am chord, mute with your fourth finger. Palm Muting Your fretting hand doesn’t have to do all the work of muting. You can also mute by touching strings with your picking fingers or with the side of your picking hand palm. That’s the focus of Example 9, a 12-bar blues shuffle in E. You can play this pattern with no muting, but it doesn’t sound, well, bluesy. For a thumpier sound, rest your palm on the strings near the bridge while you strike the bass strings. (This is easier to do when you’re playing with a flatpick or thumbpick than with your bare fingers, just because of the angle of your hand.) Experiment with the placement of your palm: the closer you are to the soundhole, the deader the sound. If you rest your palm right on top of the saddle, you’ll mute the strings just slightly. To dial in all those eighth-note triplets, which have a rest in the middle, you’ll need to mute with your fretting fingers too. As in the previous examples, touch the open strings with any available fretting fingers. Even when you’re not keeping your palm on the strings, you can use your palm to help dampen the sound. If you’re strumming, say, the clave or reggae rhythms from earlier in this lesson, try landing your palm gently on the strings at the end of the strum motion—rather than striking the strings and then moving away from them. This sort of palm muting, in conjunction with fretting-hand muting, will add some kick to your rhythm. As these last examples suggest, your muting motto should be: all hands on deck. The fretting and picking hands work together to keep the notes contained and the rhythms nice and tight. And, of course, when the music calls for it, let those strings ring. Muting is great for contrast—it makes sustained notes and chiming chords sound even bigger. https://vimeo.com/701460240 Power Chords Power chords, also known as five chords, are essential vocabulary for rock ’n’ roll rhythm, from the Kinks to the Cars to the White Stripes and Black Keys. These stripped-down chords have a kind of primal sound that’s perfect for rhythmically driving music—not just rock but blues, bluegrass, Celtic music, and many other styles. In this lesson, you will run through some common fingerings for 5 chords, and a few examples of how you can use them in your accompaniment. Cut the Thirds While a chord normally consists of three or more notes, power chords have only two notes: the root and the fifth. There is no third, which is the note that would mark the chord as major or minor, so that leaves the tonality more open and undefined. To get started, play through the open-position chord shapes in Example 1. You’ll notice that all of these voicings actually include three or more strings—that’s because the roots or fifths repeat at higher octaves, just to beef up the sound. The first E5, for instance, has the root (sixth-string E), fifth (fifth-string B), and root an octave up (fourth-string E). For the E5 and A5 chords in measure 1, use a two-string barre with your first finger. The G5 chord is a typical bluegrass voicing; lean your second finger against the fifth string to mute it. Similarly, in the C5 chord lean your third finger against the fourth string to mute it. The last three chords are voicings of E5, A5, and D5 that include more upper strings. These require some fourth-finger strength (especially the A5) but are good to know when you want bigger-sounding power chords. Power-Chord Progressions Try the E5, A5, and D5 chords together in Example 2, which is reminiscent of the ’80s power-pop classic “What I Like About You,” by the Romantics. On the last beat of both measures, lift up the A5 barre and play the open strings for a half beat. That makes it easier to move to the next chord. Example 3 is a bluegrass/country-style progression. Leave your fourth finger in place when moving from the G5 chord to C5, and then slide that finger up two frets for the D5 chord. Example 4 is back in the rock zone, using the six-string version of E5 along with G5 and A5. If you’re having trouble with this A5 fingering, either don’t fret the first string or substitute the three-string voicing used in Example 2. Rock rhythm (especially on electric guitar) often uses closed-position power-chord shapes that can be moved anywhere on the neck. The workhorse shapes are shown in the next two examples. The power chords in Example 5 have roots on the sixth string. Play F5 with your first finger at the first fret, then move the entire grip up to the third fret for G5, to the fifth fret for A5, and to the seventh fret for B5. You can, of course, play this shape at any other fret. The power chords in Example 6 have roots on the fifth string—they use the same fingering as in Example 5, just moved over one string Play B♭5 with your first finger as the first fret, C5 at the third fret, D5 at the fifth fret, and E5 at the seventh fret. You also can include the open first, second, and sixth strings with the E5 if you want a big, ringing sound. In Example 7, practice moving from G5 to C5 while maintaining a steady eighth-note rhythm, using all downstrokes with the pick. If you’d like, palm mute the chords for a tight sound. The open-string notes at the end of each measure give you a momentary break to change fingerings. Example 8 uses the same G5 and C5 shapes but mixes bass notes with chords. Now try Example 9, which slides the same power chord shape around the neck—this is a less frenetic version of the changes in the Kinks’ “All Day and All of the Night.” On the acoustic guitar, you wouldn’t necessarily play power chords exclusively in a song—you might use them along with regular majors and minors. That’s the case with Example 10, a snippet of the kind of chord progression used in the Cars’ hit “Just What I Needed.” After playing E5 and B5, go to the fourth fret for C♯m—this is the same as the power-chord shape in Example 6, with an additional note (the minor third) added on top. The same is true for G♯: you’ve added the major third on top of the power-chord shape from Example 5. Try power chords in other songs. You can substitute them for either major or minor chords. You may find that the raw sound of a 5 chord is just what you needed. https://vimeo.com/701458732 Sus Chord Embellishments You know the sound: Pete Townshend’s furious rock strumming on the opening verse of the Who’s “Pinball Wizard,” or the sweet riff Bob Dylan plays at the beginning of “Tangled Up in Blue.” Those are sus4 chords resolving into major chords, and they provide great opportunities to add color to your guitar parts. Many other classic acoustic-based songs, including James Taylor’s “Country Road” and “Fire and Rain,” rely heavily on sus2 and sus4 chords for embellishment. The nice thing about suspended or sus chords—essential vocabulary in all sorts of music—is that they typically involve just a one-finger change from a familiar chord form. Sus chords follow a simple formula: a basic triad consists of the root, third, and fifth; in a sus chord, you replace the third with either the second (for a sus2) or the fourth (for a sus4). Sus Shapes Check out Example 1, which shows D and A sus chords. In the D major chord, the third is the F♯ on the high E string; for Dsus2, replace the third with the second (E); and for Dsus4, replace it with the fourth (G). Follow the same pattern for the A chords: in this case, the third is C♯, the second is B, and the fourth is D—all played on the second string. Strum through the example slowly, and listen to how the sus chords sound unresolved. When you play a Dsus4, for instance, your ears want it to resolve to D major. Try these D and A sus chords in a strum pattern in Example 2. Notice that the sus4 and sus2 chords liven up what would otherwise be two measures of D and two measures of A. This is one of the key functions of sus chords: to add movement and variety when the underlying progression is fairly static. In Example 3, check out sus-chord fingerings for C and F. You’ll see that in the C sus chords, you need to mute some strings. This is to remove all the thirds, so they are true sus chords (a chord that includes the third and also the second or fourth has a slightly different sound than a sus chord and would be called an add chord). Put the C and F sus chords to work in Example 4. In measures 1 and 3, hammer onto the fourth string, second fret, to go from Csus2 to C; in measure 2, do the same thing on the third string to go from Fsus2 to F. This hammer-on figure is a very common use of the sus2. You’ll notice that this is a slightly different Fsus2 fingering, with a C in the bass on the fifth string and the first string muted. I voiced the chord this way simply because it makes for a smoother and easier change from C. On a G, you can play sus chords in two ways in open position, voiced on the upper strings or on the lower strings, as shown in Example 5. Both voicings come in handy in different situations. In the first set of G chords, lean the third finger of your fretting hand against the fifth string to mute it. Finally, the last measure of this example shows a lush Esus4 chord, which sounds sweet resolving to an E major. Sus Out Now that you’ve got a good library of sus chords, here are a few more examples of how you can use them. Example 6 rocks between G and Gsus4 chords in a pattern similar to the “Tangled Up in Blue” intro. In measures 2 and 4, hammer on to the first fret of the second string with your first finger to change to the Gsus4, then pull off to the open string to go back to G. The Esus4-to-E groove of Example 7 is reminiscent of “Pinball Wizard,” though in a different key, and sounds particularly good played fast (the Pete Townshend windmill is optional). Finally, Example 8 closes the lesson with James Taylor–style sus-chord embellishments of D and A. Use hammer-ons and pull-offs to get even more in the JT zone. https://vimeo.com/701456521 Percussive Grooves The acoustic guitar is a natural-born rhythm machine, as can be heard in all sorts of music, from country and blues to Celtic and rock. The instrument’s percussive qualities do come out when you simply strum chords—a flatpick striking metal strings is a kind of percussion instrument in itself. By focusing in on the percussive aspects of your playing, particularly to string muting and pick technique, you can turn your guitar into a full-fledged rhythm section—drums, bass, and chords rolled into one. In this lesson you’ll work on some basic percussive techniques that can add tremendous power to your guitar grooves. The Kick and Snare One way to think about percussive techniques on the guitar is that you’re covering the roles of a drum kit’s kick and snare. In a straight-up 4/4 country groove, for instance, a drummer would hit the kick on beats 1 and 3, along with the bass, and the snare on beats 2 and 4 (aka the backbeats). You can hear this type of alternating pattern in Example 1, a classic boom-chuck rhythm on a G chord in which the bass notes (boom) fall on 1 and 3 and the chord strums (chuck) are on 2 and 4. Play this example using all downstrokes with your pick. Let’s take this boom-chuck pattern and start accentuating the percussion more. In Example 2, switch to a barre-chord G at the third fret and play essentially the same pattern as in Example 1, letting each bass note and chord ring for its full quarter-note duration. Then in Example 3, play the bass notes as you did in Example 2, but right after you strum the barre chord on beats 2 and 4, loosen your fretting-hand grip so you cut off the ringing of the strings and get a more percussive sound. This articulation is indicated in the notation with staccato marks (dots) above the chords. Though the staccato chords are shown as quarter notes, they sound more like eighth notes, with rests between them and the following bass notes. Hear how the rhythm starts to pop? Be sure to keep your fingers in the G barre-chord shape even when you’re muting the strings, so it’s easy to press down and sound the chord again. Now loosen your grip on the chord even more quickly, to the point where your strum creates a snare-like sound with very little pitch—as in Example 4, where the noteheads and tab numbers are replaced by X’s. Generally, you’ll get a better percussive chop by aiming your pick at the wound strings rather than the trebles. Muting Open Strings Muting is easy with a barre chord—you’re fretting all the strings, so loosening the fretting hand instantly mutes everything. But, of course, you often want to play chords with open strings, which require a little more finesse to mute. Example 5 starts on a C chord with the first string muted—lean your first finger against that string to silence it. To create a percussive chop, as in the previous example, loosen your fretting-hand grip right after you strum the chord while flattening your second and/or third fingers so they touch and mute the open third string. To get the alternating bass on the C chord, move your third finger between the fifth and sixth strings. This motion also tightens up the bass line, because every time you move your finger to the other string it automatically mutes the previous string—the bass notes don’t overlap. On the G chord, flatten your third and second fingers to mute the open strings. Think of Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya”—that’s the jaunty feel you’re going for here. Example 6 is another alternating-bass percussive pattern, similar to what’s used in Miranda Lambert’s hit “Mama’s Broken Heart,” with short, connecting bass runs between chords. The Bm chord is all fretted notes, so it’s easy to mute, but the Em presents a little twist because of its open sixth string. You don’t want to let that low E ring—controlling the duration of bass notes is also an important part of creating strong grooves. To mute the strings for the percussive strums on Em, lay your third finger across all six strings while holding the Em position with your first and second. You can use a similar technique to mute any chord with an open string in the bass (in standard tuning, any forms of E, A, and D). Percussion In a Strum Pattern So far you’ve been using alternating bass and percussive strums. You can also incorporate percussion into a straight strumming pattern to increase its groove factor. For instance, first strum Example 7a with no muting. This is a simple pattern of quarter- and eighth-note strums—use down- and upstrokes as indicated and let each chord ring for its full duration. Now try Example 7b, in which beats 2 and 4 have been changed to percussive strums. To mute the strings for the percussive strums, loosen your grip on the G chord and lay your fretting-hand third and second fingers across the open strings. Big difference compared with the ho-hum strum in Example 7a, isn’t it? The next example develops this strumming percussion idea a bit further, using a rhythm pattern reminiscent of the Grateful Dead’s “Bertha.” First try Example 8a with no muting. Notice there’s a quick C/G—to play that, leave the G fingering in place and add your first and second fingers on the second and fourth strings, respectively. This strum pattern has a little syncopation, too—the last strum in measure 1 and the first two strums of measure 2 are on the and rather than on the beat. Once you’re comfortable with this rhythm, play Example 8b. Once again, there are percussive strums on beats 2 and 4, and the last strum of the first measure is cut short rather than ring- ing into the next measure. The addition of the percussion makes this rhythm much more satisfying and complete—it sounds like a real groove. Fingerstyle String Percussion While this lesson is oriented toward flatpick technique, you can create similar percussive effects if you play fingerstyle. For strumming you can use your thumb and index/middle fingers similarly to a flatpick, and you can also get a nice backbeat slap by gently dropping the side of your thumb onto the bass strings so they slap against the frets. Rotate your picking hand so that the thumb falls more or less straight down onto the bass strings and comes to rest on them. Try it in Example 8c, which is nearly the same pattern as 8b but with the top string left off and some bass notes used in place of chords. Instead of strumming, pick each string simultaneously: pick the bass note with your thumb and the upper notes with your index, middle, and ring fingers. (This technique is the focus of the later lesson titled Pianistic Picking.) Drop your thumb and fingers lightly onto the strings for the percussive slaps. Got a Backbeat, You Can’t Lose It As Chuck Berry clarifies in “Rock and Roll Music,” rock (and blues) tunes are all about the backbeat—beats 2 and 4. In terms of the kick/snare rhythm described earlier in this lesson (kick on beats 1 and 3; snare on beats 2 and 4), the backbeat snare hits are emphasized way more in rock than in the country examples we started with. Check out Example 9 to get a taste of the rock backbeat. In the first two measures, hold down a one-finger A chord. If you have trouble getting all the strings to ring clearly with this first-finger barre, no worries, because we’re not really looking for clean chord tones anyway! Also use an first-finger barre for the E5, just on the fifth and fourth strings, and mute all the higher strings. The key in this example is to nail the backbeats (Xs in the notation); summon your inner rock ’n’ roll drummer. Raise your picking hand toward your chest and come down on the muted strings with a snap of the wrist. On the eighth notes, use down-up alternating picking as shown in measure 1. Also notice the staccato marks on the first beat of each measure; use your fretting-hand middle finger to cut off these notes so they are closer to eighth notes or even shorter. Example 10 applies this percussive approach to the fifths and sixths riff familiar from countless rock and blues songs (think “Brown Sugar”). Again, you’re using two-string chords here—in this case with your index finger up at the fifth fret. Where you see the staccato marks, shorten the notes, just like you did in the last example, by muting them with your second and third fingers. As in Example 9, accent the backbeat (the > symbol marks the accented beats) with a downstroke strong enough to create a percussive slap on the strings. I haven’t used Xs on the backbeats because you do want to hear a bit of pitch. Picking-Hand Muting In addition to muting with your fretting fingers, you can use palm muting (as introduced in Muting) with a blues/rock pattern like Example 10. Rest your picking-hand palm on the bass strings near the bridge—move your palm toward the soundhole for a more percussive sound or toward the bridge (or even right on top of the bridge) to allow the pitch to come through a bit more. You can also use palm muting when you strum, as on the backbeats in Example 10. Bring both your pick and your palm down onto the strings together, with your palm landing a little in front of the bridge. Let’s Boogie To close out this lesson, play a little boogie-woogie that incorporates the percussive techniques you’ve been practicing. Example 11 uses a 12-bar blues progression in E and has a similar feel to “The Ballad of John and Yoko” by the Beatles. This example is mostly about the bass line, which follows the same pattern on the I (E5) and IV (A5) chords. The example kicks off with a quick descending riff before starting the bass line in measure 2. Emphasize the backbeats throughout: on the E5 and A5 measures, play a percussive chop on beat 2 (where you see the X), and hit the notes on beat 4 (accent marks) a little harder than the others to get some string percussion along with the pitch. Check out the pick directions, and notice that downstrokes are always used for the accented backbeats as well as beats 1 and 3. Since downstrokes are inherently stronger than upstrokes, this simple picking strategy of using a downstroke on the beat bolsters the rhythm even without the added percussion. In measure 10, on the V chord (B5), play the fourth string percussively on the backbeats between the alternating bass notes. (This pattern is similar to Example 6.) Measure 13 uses just the bass note of the B5 chord, again with percussion on the backbeats, as a turnaround to the second pass through the tune. The example ends with a staccato E5 chord on the downbeat—mute the strings quickly with both your picking-hand palm and your fretting-hand second and third fingers. Find the Right Feel As you try out these percussive techniques in other songs, bear in mind that guitar percussion can be overdone—you don’t want to scratch, slap, and chop the strings all the time. Use your ears to gauge when a little string percussion would deepen the groove and when it would be distracting or compete too much with other instruments, especially drums/percussion but also bass or a strongly percussive instrument like the mandolin. The feel is everything. When you notice yourself and others swaying to the rhythm, you’ve got it. https://vimeo.com/701454694 Rock Rhythm When you want to rock out on rhythm guitar, it’s a natural instinct to use big chords and big strums and play hard. But as with so many other aspects of the guitar, more is not necessarily more. Often you can create more rhythmic drive and intensity by playing less. Think of songs with a classic, steady rock feel, like U2’s “With or Without You,” Radiohead’s “Creep,” or Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son”—the groove is all about the insistent pulse and the snap on the backbeats. If you want to create that kind of feel with one guitar, the best strategy is to strip down the chords and zero in on the low end and the beat. That’s why this lesson is all about that bass—no treble—and working the low strings to create stronger rock rhythms. Low-String Chords First, let’s build a vocabulary of chord voicings on the low strings. You will recognize some of these as simply the bottom portion of full chord fingerings you already know, while others may be unfamiliar. The chords in Example 1 all use open strings. The first G is just the low end of a regular G major chord, while the starker-sounding G5 has a unison D note on the fifth and fourth strings. You’ll see that several of these chords are inversions, meaning that the chord on the bottom, and the D/F♯ chords have the third on the bottom. Some chords shown here use just two strings (and any of the three-string chords could be stripped down to two for a leaner sound). For the E5 chord in measure 5, move up the neck while taking advantage of the bass note on the open sixth string. The chords in Example 2 use no open strings, so are completely movable. You could, for instance, move the G5 fingering up two frets to play an A5 chord, then up two more frets to play a B5, and so on. Get comfortable with these bass-intense chord voicings and trying subbing them into songs you already play. You can use the 5 chords (G5, A5, etc.), which have no third that defines them as major or minor, in place of both major and minor chords in a progression. (See Power Chords for more on these chords.) Play a Progression The next set of examples is based on the progression G–D–Em–C—that’s I–V–vi–IV, as used in countless pop and rock songs. You could easily strum this progression using standard open-position chords, but try it as shown here, with three variations that use the low chord voicings introduced in Example 1. Keep an unrelenting eighth note pulse, use palm muting, and play everything with downstrokes of the pick. In the first variation (Example 3), the G, D/F♯, and E5 voicings create a nice descending bass on the sixth string. Your fingers move very little from chord to chord—it’s very economical. Notice the three-string chords that come up three times in each measure, following a pattern of 1 2 3, 1 2 3, 1 2. Accent these chords to give the rhythm a little extra drive. Example 4 has the same bass motion but a somewhat starker sound. Keep your fourth finger in place as you change from the G to the D/F♯, and again from Em to C5/G. In a different direction, Example 5 uses all closed-position fingerings, which can be great for rock rhythm because they’re so easy to play percussively. This time, the bass notes of the chords go up the sixth string—from G to A, B, and C. Power Down Next, focus in on muting and percussion, with an example based on the changes from Creedence’s “Fortunate Son.” This timeless rocker is power chords all the way, so you won’t find any majors or minors here. Although “Fortunate Son” is in the key of G, Example 6 is written in A. This is actually true to the way John Fogerty plays the song; he tunes all the strings down A whole step (low to high: D G C F A D), so what he plays with key-of-A shapes sounds in G. The chord fingerings are the same as used earlier in this lesson, except the E5 is played with an first-finger barre. Work on bringing out the backbeats, which are marked with accents in the first couple of measures. On beat 2 of every measure, play a percussive scratch—loosen your fretting fingers on whatever chord you’re holding, lay them across the strings without pressing down, and give the muted bass strings a whack with the pick. On beat 4 of many measures you’ll find a staccato marking; cut these chords short by muting with your fretting fingers. At the end of measures 5 and 8, play a quick 16th note strum to propel into the next measure. And in several spots, add a little bass riff: In measures 4, 8, 9, and 12, reach for a G on the sixth string under an A5 chord; and in measures 7 and 11, grab a C on the fifth string under the D5 chord. Generating Riffs The low-end chords in this lesson do more than help you dial in a rock feel. They can also enable distinctive riffs that define a song. As a case in point, play Example 7, using standard open chords. Sounds fine, but nothing special, right? Now try the second version, Example 8, with two-note chords on the fifth and fourth strings as shown. Use the same insistent eighth note pulse as in Examples 3–5, but with string percussion on the unaccented beats. Sound familiar? It’s similar to the ’80s Men at Work hit “Overkill,” as played by the group’s principal songwriter, Colin Hay, on acoustic guitar. One of the beauties of using lean, understated chords is that they leave you tons of dynamic range to work with. You can start off with a chugging rhythm on the bass strings and open up later in the song to big, wide chords for dramatic contrast—that’s one of the most effective moves in the rock rhythm playbook. https://vimeo.com/701438057 Dropped-D Tuning When you’re ready to venture beyond the familiar ground of standard tuning, your first destination should be dropped D: an easy alternate tuning where you lower the sixth string to D and leave the other strings alone. Dropped D opens up enticing new possibilities while allowing you to use most of your hard-won knowledge of chords and notes on the fingerboard—after all, five of the six strings haven’t changed. Dabble in dropped D and you’ll quickly see why it’s used by guitarists all over the stylistic map, from folk to rock, blues to bluegrass, Celtic to classical. I find that my own guitar increasingly lives in dropped D for all sorts of original tunes and arrangements, delicate fingerstyle pieces and hard-driving flatpicked songs alike. Beware: dropped D is addicting. Tune Down To get into dropped D, you just lower the sixth string a whole step (the equivalent of two frets), to D from E. Use Example 1 to check the pitch. First match the sixth string, seventh fret, against the open fifth string. Then check the open sixth string against the open fourth string; they are now an octave apart. Now if you play the open sixth, fifth, and fourth strings (as in measure 3), you have D A D—instant power chord. Dropped-D shapes Let’s face it: in standard tuning, an open-position D chord can sound a little wimpy with its root on the fourth string. By contrast, check out the first measure of Example 2: these are the D major and D minor chords you already know, but in dropped D you can strum all six strings for a big, full sound. (No one will dare kick sand in the face of this D chord!) The low root on the sixth string also facilitates the alternate D major and minor shapes in measure 2, where you fret the fourth string. On both chords, leave out the first string—you’ve already got F♯ (on a D major) and F♯ (on a D minor) on the fourth string so don’t have to add those notes on the first string too. Dropped D does require some adjustments to standard fingerings: you have to play any notes on the sixth string two frets higher to compensate for the lower tuning. That’s why the bass note of the G chords in Example 2 is up at the fifth fret. You could play the G5 voicing on all sixth strings as shown, or simplify it by leaving out the first string and/or the fifth string. (Lean the adjacent fretting finger against any unused strings to mute them.) Then comes Em and E5, where you hold down the sixth string at the second fret to get an E in the bass. E major is a bit awkward, with four fingers scrunched together; E7 is more comfortable. You can play a standard A chord on the top five strings, but if you want to add a bass note on the sixth string you need to hold down the second fret. The best way to do that is to play the A with a first-finger barre, so you have the middle finger free to fret the sixth string. If that position is too much of a finger buster, just stick with your usual A form and steer clear of the sixth string. How about your old nemesis, the F chord? Dropped D allows you to play the friendly, full-sounding F at the beginning of measure 7, which is also movable—slide it up two frets for a G, for instance. Lean your ring finger (which is fretting the sixth string) against the fifth string to mute it. Finally, check out the movable shape for F5 in measure 7. You may recognize this as a barre version of an open-position D5. You can play this shape on five strings or simplify the chord further, as shown, and fret only the bottom four or even three strings. Many Nirvana songs, for instance, are based almost entirely on sliding this one-finger power chord shape up and down the neck. Smooth Moves Now check out these chord shapes in action. Take the examples slowly and loop them until the changes flow smoothly. In Example 3, play an eight-bar progression with D, G, and A (and some sus chord embellishments) that’s similar to what Graham Nash uses for “Teach Your Children.” Example 4 is an arpeggio idea that takes advantage of the low D string with an ascending bass line over D, G, and A. Example 5 is a churchy passage that rolls through a number of the open chord shapes. For a keyboard-like sound, play the chords fingerstyle, picking each individual string rather than strumming across them. In Example 6, notice the old faithful C chord—since this fingering doesn’t use the sixth string, we can play it in the usual fashion. Example 7 moves from Dm to Am, with simple embellishments from lifting the first finger off the first string on the Dm and adding the open second string on the Am. Move Up the Neck Thanks to those low open-string D bass notes, dropped D allows you to play easy, nice-sounding D shapes up the neck. Example 8 shows some options at the fifth fret—a major, major seventh, minor, and minor seventh—and then a few at the tenth fret. String the three tenth-fret shapes together, as in Example 9, and you’ve got a little progression similar to Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon,” a dropped-D classic. Fingerstyling Fingerpickers love dropped D, and for good reason—that low sixth string is great for alternating bass and other picking styles. For evidence, look no further than fingerpicked dropped-D favorites like Jorma Kaukonen’s “Embryonic Journey,” John Lennon’s “Dear Prudence,” and Bruce Cockburn’s “Wondering Where the Lions Are.” In Example 10, practice playing the dropped-D alternating bass with your thumb over the D, G, and A shapes while picking half and whole notes on top with your index or middle fingers. On the A, fret the sixth string at the second fret or, if you prefer, just leave out the sixth string and play the bass notes on the fifth and fourth strings. Once you’ve got the alternating bass moving smoothly, take a stab at Example 11—an arrangement of the traditional gospel song “This Little Light of Mine.” This example goes to show how well dropped D lends itself to melodic fingerstyle. If you were singing, you could double the vocal melody on guitar or create little instrumental breaks between verses. Drop Some Blues Another of my favorite uses of dropped D is with blues and roots-rock grooves. Dropped D works so well in this context in part because of the D power chord on the bottom three open strings, and in part because the blue notes are so easy to grab. In a D blues scale, the main blue notes are C (the flatted seventh of the scale) and F (the flatted third), which in dropped D are conveniently and symmetrically located at the third fret on the sixth, fifth, and fourth strings. In Example 12, hold down a D position (leaving out the first string) with your first and third fingers, even when you’re not playing those upper strings, and fret the scale notes on the low strings with your second finger. Take it slowly at first. Try giving the notes at the third fret a slight pull to accentuate their bluesy quality. These kind of slight bends are much easier to do on the looser bass strings than on the trebles. Play around with these ideas in Example 13, which is built around the D, G, and A fingerings in the above examples and makes liberal use of the blue notes in Example 12. Add in a little bass-line intro in measure 1, and in measure 7, throw in an F chord in transit between G and D. Don’t worry too much about hitting the exact strings indicated in the tab. As long as you’re holding down the right chord position, you can add or subtract notes freely. The groove is the important thing. I use similar dropped-D licks in my arrangement of the Grateful Dead’s “New Speedway Boogie,” released on an album called Dead to the Core. As you’ll explore in the lesson Dropped D in Other Keys, dropped D tuning is good for much more than the key of D. Songs in G can work great; when you go to a D chord, the V chord in the key of G, you get that very satisfying low D in the bass. Also remember that you can capo up to play in other keys. If you add a capo on the second fret and play key-of-D open-chord shapes, your guitar will sound in the key of E. Capo at the third fret to play in F, at the fifth fret to play in G, at the seventh fret to play in A, and so on. https://vimeo.com/701436367 Accompanying a Waltz From “Ashokan Farewell” to “Edelweiss” to “Sweet Baby James,” some of the loveliest melodies glide along in 3/4 or waltz time. Waltz time seems to bring out the sentimental side of songwriters—as Richard Thompson puts it, “Waltzing’s for dreamers and losers in love.” Songs in 3/4 can sound very sweet on acoustic guitar, especially when you go beyond a basic one-two-three waltz rhythm and take a more nuanced approach to picking patterns, chord voicings, and bass lines. That’s the goal of this lesson. Playing In 3/4 Songs in 3/4 have, as the numbers indicate, three quarter notes in each measure. On guitar, the simplest way to play accompaniment in 3/4 is with a bass note on beat 1 and strums on 2 and 3: that’s a boom-chick-chick (or call it oom-pah-pah) rhythm, where boom is the accented downbeat. Play it in Example 1, a I–V–I–IV progression as heard in the first four bars of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Edelweiss,” from The Sound of Music, arranged here in the key of C. That boom-chick-chick pattern can sound clunky or mechanical after a while, so now try some variations. In the first two measures of Example 2, play two eighth notes—a down-up strum—on beat 3 or (in measure 7) on beat 2. Notice how using the inversion G/B instead of a regular G makes it so the bass moves stepwise—down and up a half step (C to B to C). In Example 3, create a more open feel by playing the chord only on beat 2, with bass notes on beats 1 and 3 that guide the accompaniment from chord to chord. Example 4 shows one of my favorite rhythmic figures for accompanying a waltz: play two eighth notes in the bass on beat 1, then strum the chord on beat 2 and let it ring. The Fmaj7 chord at the end of the example adds a little extra softness to the sound. In Example 5, play the chords on beat 1 and leave lots of space. Now you can hear a hint of the “Edelweiss” melody in the phrasing and the choice of chord voicings. The accompaniment is supporting the melody in a deeper way than just marking time. In the original soundtrack recording of “Edelweiss,” the guitar actually plays almost the entire melody along with the vocal. Try Another Progression Now apply some ideas from the previous examples to a different chord progression (Example 6)—inspired by Jay Ungar’s beautiful fiddle tune “Ashokan Farewell,” the theme of the Ken Burns documentary The Civil War. The rhythmic figure in example 4 is used extensively here, starting in measure 2, where you play F♯ and A eighth notes on the sixth and fifth strings, respectively, followed by a half-note strum. If you’re playing with a flatpick, use the down-up-down pattern shown in measure 2; that maintains a relaxed alternating motion with your picking hand and gives a fuller sound for the strum than you’d get by playing with all downstrokes. As in Example 3, there are bass notes or runs at the end of each measure leading to the next chord; in measures 5–7, for instance, the bass descends from D to B to G. Let the chords ring as long as you can so they continue to sound over the bass lines. Note that measure 5 is easiest to play if you use a first-finger barre for the D chord, with your second finger on the second string. That leaves your third finger free to grab the C♯ on the fifth string. Play the Melody With a little more focus on bass notes—the lowest notes in chords as well as the single bass notes—you can play a full-blown melody in your accompaniment part. That’s what you’ll do next, in an example inspired by the late, great Elliott Smith, a prolific writer of waltzes and a sophisticated guitarist as well. Example 7 tips its hat to “Waltz #2 (XO),” which has a much more jaunty feel than the other songs mentioned above, though the lyrics, as in so many of Smith’s songs, are far from upbeat. In the first half of the example, focus on the treble side of the guitar, as the melody descends from A on the third string (in measure 1) to C on the fifth string (measure 8). The C/G, C/E, and G7/D inversions allow you to keep the melody line below the chords throughout. The second half of the example moves the same melody down an octave, starting on the open fifth string, using low versions of the C/G and C/E. Look for the suggested fingerings in measures 5–6 and 9–10, which will help you maneuver through the eighth notes to the grip you need for the following chord. Roll Along The last figure in this waltzing lesson, Example 8, uses a number of ideas introduced above. The progression comes from one of my own songs, an old-timey country waltz titled “Don’t Think That I Can Say Goodbye.” Here I use a capo at the fifth fret; I put key-of-G shapes that sound a perfect fourth higher, in C. In measures 4–8 of Example 8, play a gently rolling G–Gmaj7–G6–G pattern that, rhythmically speaking, may remind you of Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Mr. Bojangles.” Keep your second finger in place on the sixth string while you fret the notes on the fourth string with your first and fourth fingers. After that, the example incorporates a mix of picking patterns, with sections of block chords broken up by bass lines, arpeggios, and single notes—all these changes are cued to the song’s melody. The inversions D/F♯ and D7/C add a little harmonic variety. In measure 24, play a C♯m7b5 (fancy name, easy fingering) as a transition between the A and D, and at the end, climb up the neck on a D–Dsus2–D9 sequence and let the chords ring. Try applying the patterns and approaches in these examples to other 3/4 songs you know. As in all accompaniment, the key is taking your cues from the song itself. Reinforce the melody with your chord voicings and bass lines, leave plenty of space, and add fills only where they enhance rather than distract from the song. In this waltz, your guitar is the dance partner. Let the melody lead—and try not to stomp on its feet. https://vimeo.com/701434608 Arranging with a Capo Guitarists often think of the capo as a problem solver—a handy tool that allows you to transpose a song into a more comfortable key for your voice, or to play in keys like B♭ and F while using friendly open-position chord shapes. Capos are great for these purposes, but they also offer many more creative possibilities. Because a capo allows you to play the same chord progression at multiple places on the neck using different chord shapes, you can quickly experiment with various positions to find fresh sounds for a guitar arrangement. In this lesson you’ll run through that process with a four-bar chord progression—playing it in open position and then capoed in different places to check out what sounds become available. Open Position The basic progression you’ll use is in the key of G major and goes like this: G D Em DC G Am D Take it slowly and hold each chord for two beats. You can play all the chords with open position shapes, so it’s easy to come up with an arrangement that uses lots of open strings. My first take on this progression is shown in Example 1. Note that the chords are modified slightly. I used two inversions, D/F♯ and G/B, just because of the smooth bass lines they create: the bass descends from G to F♯ to E on the sixth string in the first two measures, and then C to B to A on the fifth string in the last two measures. Throughout, use the rhythmic pattern of a quarter note followed by an eighth and two 16ths. One of the keys to an effective arrangement is finding motifs like this to hold it together. Even though this open-position arrangement works well, there’s much more to explore up the neck. So grab your capo and investigate. Find Your Position The capo essentially transposes chord shapes so that they sound in different keys. At right is a chart of chords you get by using common open-chord fingerings (shown in the first column) with a capo at frets 1 through 7. This chart gives you a quick overview of capoing options. For instance, it shows that a G chord can be played using an E shape with the capo at the third fret, a D shape with the capo at the fifth fret, or a C shape with the capo at the seventh fret. Since this lesson’s progression is in the key of G, these capo positions are all good candidates. Another useful tool for transposing is thinking of the chord progression by number. I won’t get into a full explanation of the theory behind it, but in a nutshell, these numbers describe the relationships among chords in any key. Uppercase roman numerals represent major chords, and lowercase is used for minors. The I chord is the tonic—the home chord and the name of the key—and the other numbers are chords (known as diatonic) that naturally occur in the key. Each chord is built off a note in the corresponding scale. Also at right is a chart of the six most common diatonic chords in the keys of C, A, G, E, and D—the major keys that are the easiest for guitarists to play in using (mostly) open chords. Looking at the G row of this chart, you can see that this lesson’s progression uses the I (G), ii (Am), IV (C), V (D), and vi (Em). By number, the sequence goes like this: I V vi IVIV I ii V The other rows of the number chart show you how to play the same underlying progression using different chord shapes. With the capo, you can use whichever shapes you want and transpose them into your target key. Capo Up For Example 2, put your capo at the third fret, where key-of-E chord shapes sound in the key of G. The chords now are E (I), F♯m (ii), A (IV), B (V), and C♯m (vi)—a set of chord shapes that require more muscle than the G shapes do but offer some interesting alternate sounds. As you can see, once again I’ve modified some of the chords, using B5, C♯m7, Asus2, and F♯m11. If these names sound fancy, the way I arrived at them really was not. For the most part, I just left additional strings open rather than playing full chord shapes—adding some cool colors and also making the fingerings easier. The rhythm this time is all eighth notes straight through. In this and all the other examples, let the strings ring whenever possible for a flowing sound. In this capo position and with these shapes, the chord progression takes on a different character—it’s harmonically a little more mysterious. I like, too, that the chord shapes are less common than those in Example 1. Move on Up So how about at the fifth fret? Here, you can use key-of-D chord shapes to sound in the key of G. The chords in the progression are D (I), Em (ii), G (IV), A (V), and Bm (vi). Obviously, you’re in a higher register now, so the sound is a little more delicate in Example 3 than in the previous figures. The fact that the root of the I chord, D, is on the open fourth string the whole progression up until the last chord: D down to C♯, B, A, opens up the possibility of having the bass line descend through G, F♯, and E, and then up to A. Along the way, use a couple of inversions and an Asus4 to A embellishment for a little added color. Hold down the second string, third fret, through the whole example (use your second finger for the first few measures and then shift to your fourth finger on the D/F♯) until the last beat, when the Asus4 resolves to A. Again, this is a motif of the arrangement—an idea that arose from playing out of these particular chord shapes. Now move the capo up to the seventh fret for Example 4. To sound in the key of G, you use shapes from the key of C: namely C (I), Dm (ii), F (IV), G (V), and Am (vi). This example has some of the same kind of descending bass movement of the previous examples, but the C shapes suggested another melodic motif—a C–D–E figure that recurs in the first three measures. Retuning In some of these examples I found myself wishing for access to a little bit lower bass note—which got me interested in checking out dropped-D tuning. First I tried it with the capo at the seventh fret and came up with Example 5—another variation on this progression. It is nice, when you hit the D chord in the last measure, to have the root available on the open sixth string. Finally, dropped-D tuning also works well back in our original position—with no capo, using shapes in the key of G. Check it out in Example 6. Let the third string ring open over the first two D shapes, for a rich add4 sound. Choices, Choices So there are six variations on this same chord progression—all in the same key and at the same tempo but with different sounds and strengths. Trying various capo positions has unlocked quite a few arrangement ideas. The choice of which one to use ultimately depends on what best serves the song and suits your individual style—what works best for me may be different than what you want to hear. Regardless of how you ultimately play a song, moving a capo around and trying different voicings can help you find fresh approaches to accompanying songs. Experiment and keep your ears open—just because a song is in G and can be played easily in open position doesn’t mean that you should necessarily do it that way. The capo offers a simple way to try out different zones on the guitar, so take full advantage. You never know what you might find. https://vimeo.com/701433045 Cross-Picking Accompaniment If you play with a flatpick, but want to create the kinds of flowing single-note patterns and arpeggios associated with fingerstyle playing, the technique known as cross picking is just the ticket. Cross picking has roots in bluegrass, as a way to emulate fingerpicked banjo rolls on guitar, but you can apply the basic idea to any style. For accompaniment, cross picking allows you to go beyond strumming block chords and achieve a much lighter, airier sound. Aside from sounding great, cross picking can do wonders for your picking-hand technique—it provides great practice in skipping over strings, using alternating picking, and, in general, becoming more precise with the pick. This lesson will get you rolling—literally—by taking a simple chord progression and working through several cross-picked variations. Picking Single Notes To get started, play through Example 1, a ten-bar progression in C reminiscent of Paul Simon’s “The Boxer.” Use the alternating bass/ strum style, picking a bass note and then strumming a chord, with all downstrokes. On the C and F chords, move your third finger between the higher bass note and the lower one to get a crisp alternating bass. This is the pattern that you’re going to spruce up with cross picking, starting with the next figure. In Example 2, many of the quarter-note chord strums are replaced with two single eighth notes, played on the third and second strings. To play these eighth notes, you’ll need to make quick jumps with your pick from the bass note (for instance, G on the sixth string in measure 1) up to the third string. If you have trouble hitting the third string accurately and in time, slow the example down until you can play it cleanly, then incrementally increase the tempo. Use down-up picking for each pair of eighth notes; after the upstroke, continue in the same upward direction toward the following bass note. Make sure to keep your picking hand/arm relaxed and loose, moving fluidly up and down. Let all the notes ring as long as possible (longer than their written durations) and overlap—that’ll help these single notes sound more like chords. Notice that there’s an Am7 in Example 2 in place of the Am in Example 1. I added that seventh simply because it sounds nice to repeat the G (open third string) to C (first fret, second string) figure through the first four measures. Now try longer groupings of cross-picked eighth notes. Kick off the first measure of Example 3 with a bass note and strum on C, then play four eighth notes with alternating down-up picking: pick the bass note (in this case, on the sixth string) followed by strings 4, 3, and 2. This pattern continues throughout the example. I recommend alternating down-up picking as shown, but it is also possible to play the groupings of four eighth notes as down-down-down-up for a smoother sound. On the F chord in measure 7, fret string 4 with your fourth finger and string 5 with your third finger, and skip the first-finger barre position because you aren’t playing string 1 (the first finger just frets the second string). This position helps set up the fretting hand for the next measure, which leads from F back to C by way of a three-three-two pattern of eighth notes. Playing a three-three-two pattern like this over a four-beat pulse is a hallmark of bluegrass cross picking, as developed by George Shuffler with the Stanley Brothers back in the 1950s and carried on by flatpickers like Doc Watson and Clarence White. Crossing Strings Now work on skipping around the strings a little more. In Example 4, in the second half of measure 1, play the bass note on the sixth string followed by strings 3, 4, and 2. Again, use alternating picking. It may take some practice to hit the strings accurately, especially when the eighth notes keep rolling as they do in measures 3 and 4. On the F chord, the cross-picking pattern shifts to a bass note followed by strings 2, 3, and 1. This time, a brief bass run at the end of measure 8 climbs from the open fifth string back to the C. The last exercise in this lesson, Example 5, uses a mix of cross-picking ideas introduced earlier. In fact, the whole thing is cross picking—there is no strummed chord until the very last beat. The idea is to practice changing up the picking pattern. The first two measures use pairs of eighth notes, as in Example 2, followed by two bars of the picking pattern from Example 3. In the second half of measures 9 and 10, play the picking pattern from Example 4. Measures 7 and 8 use the bluegrass-style three-three-two groupings of eighth notes. Leave the G string open, turning the F into an Fsus2 for a dash of additional color. Finally, in the last two bars, play a little ending tag that involves a hammer-on in measure 11 and a walk down the fourth string that leads to a final C chord strum. In playing accompaniment, you don’t necessarily want to do constant cross picking, as in Example 5—switching between alternating bass/strums, cross picking, and straight strumming is often a great way to go. In a full arrangement of “The Boxer,” for instance, you might mix cross picking with some alternating bass/ strums on the verses, and then break into strong, full strums on the “Lie-la lie” part for contrast. The result will be much richer sounding accompaniment, and a more satisfying interpretation of the song structure, than if you followed the same pattern the whole way through. https://vimeo.com/701431002 Flatpicking Fills When you’re playing rhythm, you may sometimes wish for a second guitarist to add riffs and fills on top and keep things interesting. But you can actually accomplish that goal even without an extra pair of hands—by interspersing short lead lines with chords to create the impression of more than one instrument. That’s what you’ll practice in this lesson. You can apply a similar strategy of mixing rhythm and lead to any style of music, but the focus here is on bluegrass, in which guitarists often punctuate their rhythm parts with flatpicking fills like the classic Lester Flatt G run. The specific example used in this lesson is the traditional song “Mama Don’t Allow,” which follows a typical I–IV–V chord progression in the default bluegrass key of G. Naturally, the verse shown in Example 1 is about Mama not allowing guitar picking (feel free to make up your own verses with other prohibited activities). Like most songs, “Mama Don’t Allow” has breaks in the vocal—in measures 3–4, 7–8, and 15–16. Those are the best places to play fills, as indicated by the markers in the notation for Fill 1, 2, and 3. No matter how cool they may be, lead licks that stomp over the vocal melody can be a real distraction or even a nuisance. The guitar’s job is to support and enhance, not compete. So a good rule of thumb is to keep the rhythm simple and minimal under the vocal—mostly stripped-down chords and bass notes—and then during pauses in the vocal, add fills here and there. Think of it as a call and response between the vocal and the lead guitar. The guitar part in Example 1 sticks to bass notes and strums but still incorporates this element of call and response. While singing, you play only one bass note and two strums per measure, but in the fill measures, thicken the rhythm with eighth-note strums—a quick up-down-up as shown. At the end of Fill 2, add the third fret on the first string (turning the D to Dsus4) to anticipate the change back to G. Try playing these fill strums a little louder, too, then quieting down again while you sing. In a moment when the singer is, in effect, backing off the mic, the guitar is stepping up for a little accent. Pick It Now work on adding single-note fills, starting with Example 2a, which you could use in the slots for either Fill 1 or Fill 3, over a G chord. At the end of measure 1, play two single notes instead of a strum, then follow with an open G note on beat 1 of measure 2 before resuming the strum pattern. Example 2b is the exact same fill except on a D chord, and could be used as Fill 2. Play these two figures as written, and also try adding an open D on the and of beat 4 in bar 1 of Example 2a and an open A on that beat in Example 2b. Even simple fills like this create a nice punctuation to the end of a line of singing. Next, check out a couple of variations on the traditional bluegrass G run. In Example 3a, play single notes all the way through the first measure, with a quarter note on beat 4; in Example 3b, ramp up a little more with two eighth notes at the end of the first measure. When you resume strumming in the second measure of each example, play a simple half note followed by a quarter note (the remaining examples will show a few other simple variations on this strum pattern that you can mix and match with any of the single-note lines). Again, in “Mama Don’t Allow,” you could use these two-measure patterns for Fill 1 or 3. In Example 3c and 3d, play the same runs on a D chord—you could use either for Fill 2. In this case, you have to jump up to the fourth string to play the root. Notice that the G run is essentially outlining a G chord shape: you climb from a low G (the root) up to B (the third) and D (the fifth) on the way to G an octave higher. All the notes in the chord are present, which is why a single line like this can easily substitute for playing the chord. The next example shows another variation on the G run that reverses direction a couple of times. In Example 4a, slide your index finger at the end of the first measure from the first to the second fret—that makes it easier to fall back into the G chord fingering with the first and second strings fretted. In Example 4b, on a D chord, the jump from the sixth string up to the fourth may feel a little abrupt, so Example 4c shows an alternative: play the run up an octave, on the fourth and third strings. This isn’t note for note the same as Example 4b—the run is adapted to take advantage of the D on the open fourth string. Go back to “Mama Don’t Allow” and try subbing in these fills in whatever order you like. You certainly don’t need to play a fill every time the vocal pauses, but adding them periodically can help hold a listener’s interest. Add the Blue Notes The next examples bring out the blue in bluegrass by incorporating the flatted seventh and flatted third—aka the blue notes (along with the flatted fifth). Examples 5a (on G) and 5b (on D) both start on an offbeat—the and after 1—and hit the flatted seventh (F on a G chord, C on a D chord). In Examples 5c and 5d, play the flatted third as well (B♭ on a G chord, F♮ on a D chord). Example 5d is up on the third and fourth strings, rather than in the lower octave, because the bluesy bend of the F♮ works better on the fourth string than on the sixth (where F♮ would be on the first fret). You may notice that some of these fills start with the root of the chord (Example 5d, for instance, opens with a D note), while others, like Example 5c, do not. The question of whether to play the root at or near the beginning of a fill depends on the context. Fill 1 happens in a spot in the song when you’re staying on the same chord as in previous measures, so the harmony is well established and you don’t really need to hit the root again. By contrast, Fill 2 and Fill 3 happen right where the chord changes, so playing the root of the new chord helps to mark the change in harmony. Examples 6a and 6b continue in a bluesy vein. In Example 6a, on the last beat of measure 2, play an F♯ on the sixth string—this suggests a quick flip to a D chord before continuing on G. Example 6b also uses that F♯ on the sixth string; if you were playing this as Fill 3, the ascending bass line would help launch you back to the G that follows in the next measure. All of the fills you’ve played so far have included at least a chord strum or two, but you don’t have to play any chords at all. You can keep playing single-line fills for the full two measures, as in Examples 7a and 7b. Both of these examples open with a fiddle-style doubling of an open string with a fretted note; do a quick slide up to the fifth fret on the fourth string in Example 7a, and on the fifth string in Example 7b. Then continue with single notes for the remainder of the fill. Fills on Other Chords There’s lots of fun to be had on G and D chords, but of course you’ll want to be able to play fills on other chords as well. So in the remaining examples, play bluegrass-inspired fills similar to what you’ve practiced above but on other chords. Example 8a is on a C chord and is nearly the same as Example 5a moved up a string. In Example 8b, walk up to the C shape on the sixth string and then the fifth. Examples 9a and 9b are on an A chord; using a barre fingering for A (first finger holding down three strings) makes it much easier to play fills and transition quickly to the chord. Finally, Examples 10a and 10b are on an E chord, and 10b gets extra bluesy with the flatted third, fifth, and seventh—perfect for a tune like Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.” While the fills in this lesson definitely connect to bluegrass tradition, the underlying ideas apply to any genre. Use fills at moments when you won’t distract from other things happening in a song, vocally or instrumentally. Stay close to the chord shapes you’re using so you can seamlessly switch between lead fills and rhythm. When you’re using single lines, play roots and other chord tones to reinforce the harmony—your listeners won’t even realize that, for a few bars at least, no one is on rhythm guitar. https://vimeo.com/701429125 Melodic Riffs You’re working up a new song and want to go beyond playing the basic chords—you’d like to add some riffs, an intro, or maybe a solo to fill out the arrangement. Not sure how to find these guitar parts? The first place to look is in the song itself, especially the melody. In many classic songs, the signature guitar parts come straight from the vocal melody. Think of Taj Mahal’s version of the Henry Thomas tune “Fishing Blues,” in which Mahal fingerpicks the melody as an intro and interlude. Echoing the melody on guitar is a simple, powerful way to add instrumental interest while still supporting the vocal. Whether your goal is to add melodic embellishments to your accompaniment, or to develop a full instrumental section, playing around with a song’s melody on guitar can generate all sorts of ideas. This lesson runs through the process using “Eyes on the Prize,” a gospel song turned civil rights anthem. Also known as “Hold On” and “Gospel Plow,” the song has been recorded by such artists as Pete Seeger, Mavis Staples, Sweet Honey in the Rock, and Bruce Springsteen. As with many traditional songs, the melody, chords, and lyrics vary from artist to artist; my arrangement stays close to Seeger’s version. Melody First The first step in playing around with melody, logically enough, is getting the basic melody in your ears and under your fingers. In Example 1, I’ve written out “Eyes on the Prize” in the key of Am (if you prefer a higher key, capo up the neck). Focus on playing the melody as clearly as you can, and letting your guitar do the singing. “Eyes On the Prize” has a simple 16-bar form, and this arrangement uses only three chords: Am, G, and Em. (It’s interesting to note how other artists harmonize the dramatic moment in measure 9 with the move to Em. Instead of the minor V chord, as used here, Springsteen opts for the brighter III chord, while Staples hits the bluesy ♭VII—the same melody note works over all three of these chords.) If you can have a friend play the chords while you play the melody, great, but this melody stands on its own quite well. The melody starts on the open fifth string and stays entirely in open position. Once you’re able to play this example smoothly, try playing the melody an octave higher: start at the third string, second fret; or at the fourth string, seventh fret. Finding a melody on the fretboard by ear, without looking at tab, is fantastic practice. Filling In Now start playing around with the melody. Example 2 uses the “Eyes on the Prize” melody essentially as in Example 1, in the low octave on the guitar, but adds some harmony and bass runs. As you can see in the tab, much of this example is based on the open-position Am shape (or part of it). In the first seven bars, if you fret the fourth and third strings with your first and second fingers, your third finger is free to fret notes on the fifth and sixth strings; alternatively, if you fret the fourth and third strings with your second and third fingers, your fourth finger can grab the lower strings. The small notes in measures 1 and 5 are grace notes. Play these quickly, as ornaments to the notes that follow. This example shows a full pass through the melody, but you could also pick out bits and pieces to use in your own arrangement. For instance, you might play the Am hammer-on in measure 1 (after the pickup measure) as a little chord embellishment. The phrase in measures 4–8 would serve nicely as an instrumental intro. Or you could play the bass runs in measures 7 and 8 and 15 and 16 to tag the “Hold on” lines in the vocal. All of these ideas fit naturally with the song, since they are derived from the melody. Up an Octave In Example 3, shift the melody up an octave, starting on the second fret of the third string, to see what other sounds are available. When I started fooling around with the melody in this register, I noticed that the recurring E notes in the melody can be played on the open first string. This version makes the most of that open string, with a fiddle-style doubling of the E on the second string in measures 1, 3, and 5. In measures 8–9, the melody sits nicely atop a five-string Am chord and then an Em voicing with a G added on the first string, so you can play big, full chords and still have the melody come through. In measure 10, playing the open first string frees up your fretting hand to move up the neck—up to a rich Am voicing at the ninth and tenth frets. Pay attention to the suggested fingerings to help you navigate up and back down the neck. Again, there are lots of ideas here that you could use in a melodic intro or solo. Capo Up For a final pass through “Eyes on the Prize” (Example 4), capo at the fifth fret, where Em fingerings sound in the key of Am. The chord shapes now are Em, D, and Bm, and all sorts of possibilities open up for using open strings. In the first four bars, check out how playing the melody up the neck on the fifth and fourth strings allows space for letting the top three strings ring. These droning open strings in a minor key create a haunting sound. This example strays from the melody a bit more. Play a descending line on the fourth string against an upper-string drone in measures 5 and 6, and again in measures 13 and 14. On the Bm, leave the first string open for a little extra color, and move your first finger between the fifth and sixth strings for a touch of alternating bass movement. The versions of “Eyes on the Prize” that I’ve shared are just a few examples of what you can find by playing around the melody. Make your own variations by learning the bare melody in different positions on the guitar and then adding chord tones, bass runs, and more. The beauty of this process is that you are not relying on generic riffs and patterns—you are letting the song itself be your guide. https://vimeo.com/701426039 Hybrid Picking Flatpickers and fingerstylists may argue about the superiority of their respective playing styles, but the truth is, they each have advantages. For strumming and percussive rhythms, as well as speedy single-note soloing, the pick is a potent tool, while fingerstyle enables a more piano-like sound, with multiple voices cleanly separated and moving independently. Many guitarists trade off using pick or fingers from song to song, or awkwardly put the pick in their mouth while they play a fingerstyle passage, but it is possible to blend these playing styles together, with the versatile technique known as pick-and-fingers or hybrid picking. For a shining example of what hybrid picking makes possible, check out Richard Thompson’s playing on songs like “When the Spell Is Broken,” where he plays a steady bass with a flatpick while his fingers add ornaments and lead licks. The classic country chicken-pickin’ style is also based on combining flatpick and fingers (or thumbpick and fingers, à la Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed). Hybrid picking has a lot to offer whether you’re playing accompaniment, solo instrumentals, or lead. In this lesson you’ll try out the technique in a variety of styles, from blues and country to classical, and wind up with a hybrid-picking arrangement of the gospel song “This Train.” Hybrid-Picking Basics To play hybrid style, you hold a flatpick in the usual position between your thumb and index finger and also use your free fingers to pluck strings. The middle finger (m) is the easiest to use alongside the flatpick, and some hybrid pickers use only the m finger, but you can also use your ring (a) and even little (c) fingers if you like. Keeping longer nails on your picking fingers is nice but not essential. Generally speaking, the pick covers the bass strings and the fingers cover the trebles, but these string assignments are flexible—the whole idea of hybrid picking is to give you multiple options. To get started, take a look at Example 1a. Hold down an open-position E chord and get a steady bass going on the sixth string with the pick, as in measure 1. In Example 1b, pluck the first string with your middle finger over the steady flatpicked bass, and in measure 2 do the same on the second string. Throughout these examples, play the down-stemmed notes with the pick and the up-stemmed notes with your middle finger. Repeat Example 1b until it feels comfortable before moving on. In Example 1c, play half notes on the top three strings. Then, in Example 1d, play a little syncopated blues melody, with some of the upper notes falling on offbeats. So far this sounds like regular fingerpicking, but let’s start adding some sounds that are unique to the hybrid style. Example 2a begins in a similar way as the first example, but in measure 2, strum an E chord on beats 2 and 4 with the pick. Repeat this two-bar section to get used to switching between pick-and-fingers and pick only. Example 2b is the same as Example 2a, except you’re now playing an alternating bass. In Example 2c, continue the alternating bass with the pick while adding a bluesy line on top with your finger, and in the last measure strum an E7 three times with the pick. This is the beauty of hybrid style: you can get fingerpicking sounds but also have the pick available when you want it. Double Stops As the above examples demonstrate, one of the biggest reasons to use hybrid picking rather than a pick alone is to be able to play nonadjacent strings simultaneously. This makes it easy to play something like the double stops in Example 3, descending from the fifth fret on the fourth and second strings. Play the fourth-string notes with your pick and the second-string notes with your middle finger. Example 4 uses the same notes, except instead of double stops, play the pairs of notes in sequence (low and then high) to create a classic blues riff. You may recognize the double stops in Example 5 as a walk-up from G to C heard in Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant.” Again, use your pick for the lower notes (on the sixth and fifth strings) and your middle finger for the upper notes (second and first strings). In measure 2, switch to an alternating-bass strum on C with your pick. Loop this example for more practice changing between hybrid picking and pick only. With these double stops, you may find that the flatpicked note is noticeably louder/sharper than the note picked with your bare finger. Work on balancing the volume by softening the pick attack and/or plucking a bit more forcefully with your finger. Example 6 uses double stops to create a simple harmonized melody over a C–G–C progression. Remember to play all the down-stemmed notes with the pick, including the alternating bass/strum patterns in measures 2, 4, 6, and 8. The result is similar to Maybelle Carter–style chord melody, except the melody is in the treble rather than on the low end of the guitar. It’s sweet, thanks to hybrid picking, to be able to harmonize a melody so easily like this alongside crisp strums with a pick. More Melodies Let’s look at a couple more examples of using your fingers to add riffs or melodies on the upper strings while keeping the rhythm going in the bass with the pick. Example 7 is a four-bar chord sequence in a folk-rock vein that uses Am, G, and F chords. Play the bass line with the pick, muting the bass strings with your palm to enhance the groove. With your third and second fingers, add the repeating motif on the third and second strings over the Am–G change and the F–G changes; to get the open second string over the F chord, you have to lift the barre temporarily while keeping your first finger on the first fret of the sixth string. On beat 2 of measure 4, strum the G chord with the pick to punctuate the end of the sequence, before heading back to the Am on the repeat. Example 8 shows a more lyrical use of hybrid technique. For the first time in this lesson you’re making use of the ring finger (a) for picking strings alongside m. For the most part, the fingers articulate the melody while the pick covers the bass, but you also strum chords with the pick in measures 2, 4, and 7. In this and the other examples, try reassigning notes from the fingers to the pick, and vice versa, to create different textures. Hybrid picking opens up many options for interpreting the same notes. This Train Now put hybrid picking to work in an arrangement of the great gospel song “This Train,” which has been widely sung in multiple versions in both major keys (Woody Guthrie, Big Bill Broonzy, Johnny Cash) and minor keys (the Staples Singers; Peter, Paul, and Mary). My arrangement (Example 9, on page 82) is in E minor and kicks off with a series of double stops that echo the melody, with the middle finger playing the upper voice and the pick covering the lower one. In measure 3, play the top two strings with m and a while starting the steady bass with the pick. Once the vocal kicks in, the fingers double some (but not all) the notes of the vocal melody while the pick covers the bass and occasional strums. In measures 11–13, play the double stops in the treble with your middle finger on the third string and ring finger on the second string. In the second half of measure 13, strum the B7 with your pick, building to the full, dramatic Em strums at the top of measure 15. In measures 17–18, pause the accompaniment for a couple beats and then play a quick slide/pull-off figure with your middle finger on the third and fourth strings. In the final three bars of the song, use your pick for a tag of A–Em with a few chord strums and some quick flatpicking-style hammer-ons and pull-offs. Hybrid picking can take a little getting used to if you’ve always played with a pick or with your fingers, but the payoff is big for adding this technique to your picking-hand toolkit. It greatly expands your range and versatility, whether for instrumentals or accompaniment, and can be applied to any style of music. So forget the question of whether flatpicking or fingerstyle is the best way to play—mix ’em up and get the best of both worlds. https://vimeo.com/701424418 Pianistic Picking Guitarists tend to rely on few default techniques for accompaniment: strumming, alternating boom-chick bass/ strums, or fingerpicking single-note patterns. You can cover a lot of ground with these approaches, but there’s another way to play that is often overlooked: picking multiple strings simultaneously with your fingers. The sound is very different than a percussive strum or an arpeggio; it’s more like a piano, with your fingers taking the role of the hammers striking the strings. When you play chords with this pianistic approach, the individual voices/strings come through much more clearly than with strumming. That opens up a lot of expressive possibilities and works well with hymns, jazz, blues, Latin music—or really any style. So in this lesson, drop your flatpick and try out some piano-inspired fingerstyle approaches to picking chords. Basic Technique With this style of picking, your fingers essentially act as a unit, as if they were glued together. To get started, practice this technique with the index and middle fingers plus your thumb. In all the examples in this lesson, play the up-stemmed notes with your fingers, and the down-stemmed notes with your thumb. In Example 1, which is based on the “Pachelbel’s Canon” chord progression in the key of C, sometimes you pick with the thumb and two fingers at the same time, as in the opening C chord—this is like a basic thumb/index fingerpicking pinch with the middle finger added. Sometimes you play with the index/ middle fingers by themselves, as on the last beat of measure 1. Notice how, in measures 5–6 and elsewhere, the two fingers create nice parallel harmonies, with notes a third apart. The harmony is cleaner than if you were playing these notes with a pick, because with a pick you would be sounding the notes in quick succession rather than precisely together. In measure 8, play a classic walk-up from G (heading toward C if you loop the example). Now in Example 2, run through the same progression, this time bringing your ring finger into the action, so the ring, middle, and index fingers are working as a unit. Pick the highest note of each chord with your ring finger. It might take some time to get used to picking three adjacent strings at the same time; take it slowly and work on sounding only the strings indicated as evenly as you can. The last measure repeats the walk-up with the fourth string thickening the texture a little bit. Borrowing from Bach Now use the three-finger pianistic picking technique in Example 3, inspired by Paul Simon’s “American Tune.” Simon’s guitar part sounds distinctly like traditional church music, which is no accident—the melody can be heard in St. Matthew Passion by J.S. Bach, who borrowed it from an earlier German composer, Hans Leo Hassler. Great melodies travel on. In the first two measures, play three-note chords with your fingers on the beats, and pick the off-beat bass notes with your thumb. This pattern recurs in measures 4, 5, 6, and 10. Elsewhere, change chords every beat or every other beat in sync with the melody, as an organist often does. In measure 8, play the G-to-C walk-up from Example 2 again, leading here to Bdim7 and then Am. Throughout the example, notice how this picking style makes the melody really stand out on top of the chords, and the bass line below as well. Pianistic picking is a natural for chord melody. Doing That Rag In addition to working well in a church music context, pianistic picking can sound great over at the juke joint, as Example 4 shows. This is the old favorite 12-bar blues in E, with a descending line on the seventh chord reminiscent of ragtime piano. The pattern is straightforward to play: on the E7, while you’re thumping a steady bass with your thumb, pick the open first string along with the second string at the third fret and third string at the fourth fret. Slide this shape down by half steps and then play the top strings open at the end of measure 1 before landing on an open E shape in measure 2. Follow essentially the same pattern on the A7 chord in measures 5 and 6, starting at the eighth fret. In measure 10, add a touch of dissonance on the C7 chord by including the open second string (a half step away from the A♯ on the third string) and then resolve to a B7. Again, the pianistic picking style gives these chords a special kind of clarity that’s very different than what you’d get with strumming. A Little Latin To close out this lesson, try this style of picking in an example with a Latin jazz feel. Example 5 comes from a song of mine called “End of the Line,” in which all the chords are picked with either two or three fingers in the pianistic style. The rhythm is akin to bossa nova, with a light percussive slap added on beats 2 and 4. For the slaps, just gently drop your picking fingers (including the thumb) onto the strings while still keeping your fretting fingers in the shape of the previous chord. One bonus of pianistic picking is that it’s so compatible with this kind of fingerstyle percussion, which produces a softer sound than the scratch you can get with a flatpick. The example kicks off with a quick single-note phrase (using a grace-note slide and a pull-off on the second string) leading to the main Bm7♭5 to E7 to Am progression. Throughout the example, you use the rhythmic pattern introduced in measure 3, with chords, slaps (x), and bass notes like this: ch.xbassbassch.x1+2+3+4+ Playing these piano-like chords with discrete bass lines and percussion is like turning your guitar into a little jazz trio. In measures 4–5 and 8–9, play an ascending line with your fingers over the Am, leading up to the unison E notes on the open first string and the second string at the fifth fret. In measure 10, shift to a Dm7 and cycle around eventually to the E7. From the second ending, in the final measure, you can go back up to the top and loop the whole example if you like. Pianistic picking makes this whole song work for me—in fact, the feel that it gave me was the reason I wrote the song in the first place. If I try to play this rhythm with a pick, it loses precision and just seems flat. As you become comfortable with this style of picking, you’ll find all sorts of applications for it in whatever style of music you play. Use pianistic picking to spotlight subtleties in the harmony, play chord melody, or create distinctive rhythms—and provide a welcome change-up from the familiar textures of strumming and fingerpicking. https://vimeo.com/701421292 Open-String Chords Up the Neck Feel stuck playing the same old open-position chords all the time? The same open strings that make the so-called cowboy chords accessible and easy to fret also make possible a whole range of beautiful and less common chord voicings up the neck. Blending fretted notes with open strings, these shapes are gentler on the fingers than barre chords and can create sophisticated jazzy harmonies with a special kind of lushness (particularly on acoustic guitar) thanks to the open strings. In this lesson, check out up-the-neck shapes with open strings on the bottom and top and hear how they can liven up accompaniment parts. Removing the Barre Strum the first chord in Example 1, an E5. This shape is derived from the A-shape barre chord you’d use to play E at the seventh fret. Instead of holding down a barre, you’re leaving the sixth, second, and first strings open—an easy fingering that produces a big, majestic chord. As it happens, you can create a bunch of other cool-sounding chords by sliding the same shape around the neck. As shown, move down to the fifth fret for the D6sus2—the name sounds tricky, but the shape is not. Then continue to the C♯m7 (fourth fret), Cmaj7 (third fret), and Bsus4 (second fret). Take it all the way to open position, where your first finger is free from fretting duties, for Asus2. By stringing some of these open-string voicings together, you can wind up with a fresh way to play a familiar progression like the I–V–vi–IV used in Example 2—in the key of E, that’s E–B–C♯m–A. Leave the top two open strings ringing over all the chords. Using a pedal point or drone like this is a great way to connect the chords and add interesting harmonic colors. Similarly, you can take the other main barre chord, the E barre shape with its root on the sixth string, and leave the top strings open to play the chords in Example 3. Move the shape around for Aadd9, Badd11, G6, and F♯11—all rich-sounding voicings. Combine a few of these with Example 1 shapes to play Example 4. This is a straight-up I–IV–V progression in E (E, A, B), and the extra open strings dress it up nicely. More E and A Shapes The E and A open strings on the low end of standard tuning make E and A chords a natural choice for voicings up the neck. Example 5 shows a series of useful shapes between the fourth and seventh frets, with open strings on the bottom and top. For E and A, first check out the major, major seventh, and dominant seventh shapes. With the A shapes, if you leave the second string open, you get the Aadd9, Amaj9, and A9 in measures 4 and 5—that ringing B on the second string (the ninth of an A chord) adds a lovely color to these chords. The open second string also creates a haunting sound in the Am(add9) and Am9 shapes in measure 6. Use these voicings to play Example 6, inspired by Bob Dylan’s “Simple Twist of Fate.” Dylan used an open tuning for this song, but you can access comparable sounds with these up-the-neck voicings. Up around the seventh fret is another set of E shapes, as shown in Example 7. The sounds of the E, Emaj7, and E7 are similar to those in Example 5—the notes are just stacked a little differently. In Example 8, change from E to Esus4 by sliding your first finger up a fret (and then down again if you loop the example). Example 9 is a rhythm riff I use in an arrangement of the Grateful Dead’s “Eyes of the World” (included in my Homespun video series on Dead songs for acoustic guitar), moving quickly from Emaj7 to Aadd9 to E. On the last E chord, I only play the top four strings, so for speed and efficiency’s sake I don’t bother fretting the fifth string. These shapes are a good fit for the song’s light, jazzy feel. Minor Moves So far this lesson has stuck mostly to major chords, but there are juicy minor shapes available up the neck too. Play through some possibilities in Example 10. On Em, you can leave three or four strings open while fretting shapes around the fifth and ninth frets; for the A shapes, play the fifth and first strings open, plus the second string on Am(add9). The A5 shown isn’t specifically minor but can be used in place of major or minor chords. Example 11 shows a progression in Em using a few of these shapes. After you play the opening Em, simply move the two-finger shape over one string for the Am(add9). The B11 is a B7 shape at the seventh fret with the top two strings left open. (It’s just one note different from the Badd11 in Example 3.) The final B7♭9, with a sweet dissonance from juxtaposing C (fretted on the third string) and B (on the open second string), is a good example of the kinds of things you can find when you experiment with fretted shapes up the neck and leave strings open. D Shapes You can also take advantage of the open fourth string to play D shapes up the neck. As shown in Example 12, you can fret D, Dm, and Dm7 on the top three strings over an open fourth string bass note, or you can leave the first string open for an extra color—the effect is similar to leaving the second string open with the A shapes. (All of these chord shapes also work great in dropped-D tuning, where you’ve got an open-string bass note root an octave below the fourth string.) Use the eerie-sounding Dm9 in conjunction with Am(add9) in the Neil Young–ish Example 13. Move to C and G shapes at the third fret in measures 3 and 4, again letting the top strings ring over the fretted notes. The last example uses similar changes to George Harrison’s “Something,” in a different key (in A here, while the original is in C). The open-string sounds covered in this lesson work well with the jazz-tinged chord progression. In Example 14, start with the major to major seventh to dominant seventh sequence also used in “Simple Twist of Fate,” then go to D (at the fifth fret) in measure 4 and to B and E (at the seventh fret). Measures 7 and 8 stay lower on the neck but use the same kind of open-string pedal point on the treble strings as in earlier examples. Let the top two strings ring as you descend on the fourth string. The open fourth string in measure 9 facilitates the move back up the neck for the closing chord sequence. Strum that last Aadd9 and let it ring—and take a moment to appreciate the richness of all these up-the-neck chords with open strings. https://vimeo.com/701418689 Movable Shapes Without the Barre Barre chords are essential on the guitar, providing a set of shapes that you can move around the neck to form any chord. Yet they also can be—let’s face it—a drag. They tire out your fretting hand when you need to hold them for long stretches and can be cumbersome when you need to change chords quickly; sometimes they just sound clunky. Fortunately, there are alternatives to barre chords that are also movable but are leaner, lighter sounding, and easier on the fingers. Those chords are the focus of this lesson. The chord shapes covered here all use just three or four strings, with no open strings but no barres either. You’ll play a range of chord types—major, minor, seventh, ninth, major seventh, sixth, and diminished—and put them to use in short progressions inspired by songs from the repertoires of the Allman Brothers, Eric Clapton, John Mayer, the Beatles, and more. These chords fit naturally in a blues or swing setting but are also useful for creating punchy rhythm parts in any style of music and in any key. Majors and Minors First up is a set of movable major and minor chords. Example 1 shows a series of voicings of G major and D minor; you can move these shapes up and down the neck to get other chords. For instance, move a G major shape up two frets to play A major, or move it down two frets to play F major; and so on. Notice that many of these movable shapes are simplifications of barre chords you already know—with fewer strings and no barre. In all these chord diagrams you’ll see muted strings (marked with X). Use your fretting fingers for muting—just touch the unwanted strings lightly so they don’t ring. For instance, in the first G shape in Example 1, lean your third finger against the fourth string to mute it, and mute the top two strings by resting your first finger on them (not pressing down). For the G/D in measure 1, mute the first string with the pad of your first finger, and also touch the sixth string with your third finger. Muting the strings in this way allows you to strum all six strings—you’ll hear the fretted notes along with a percussive scratch on the muted strings. Not all of the chords in Example 1 have the root in the bass. Some have the fifth of the chord in the bass (G/D, Dm/A) or the third in the bass (G/B). These inversions can provide a nice change-up from standard root-based chord voicings, as you’ll hear in the examples that follow. In Example 2, try out some of these movable major or minor shapes in progression similar to the standard “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” Strum quarter notes throughout. In the first four measures, you slide the major shapes down by a fret: from C to B, from G♯ to G, and then from C down by half steps to A. In measures 4 to 8, use inversions of F, Fm, G♯, and G. Sevenths, Ninths, and More Now get bluesy by working with the seventh and ninth chord shapes shown in Example 3. The first G7 in measure 1 is a sweet-sounding voicing that requires much less muscle than a barre-chord G7 would; take out the B string to get the second G7 shape, which is even easier to fret and move around. That three-string G7 actually doesn’t have all the notes of a G7—there is no D note. Other chords here are missing notes too; in fact, there is no G note in the two G7/D shapes, the G7/B, the G9/B in measure 4, or the G9/D in measure 5. It might seem strange to call these G chords when they don’t even have G notes in them, but in context our ears fill in the root. Try some of these new shapes in Example 4, which recalls T-Bone Walker’s slow blues “Stormy Monday,” as played by the Allman Brothers. The example is built around G7 and C7 chord shapes, with some embellishments: in measure 1, slide from the third to the fifth fret and back again on the B and D strings, then do the same thing in measure 2 on the C7 (this time sliding up and down on the high E and G strings). In the second half of measure 3, move the G7 shape up a fret for a G♯7, then shift back down to G7 for measure 4. Example 5 uses part of the progression from another classic blues song: “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out,” written in the 1920s by Jimmy Cox and famously covered by Eric Clapton. Notice how well these three-string chord shapes fit together as you move from C to E7/B to A7. Strum this example in a percussive “choked” style, cutting off each chord quickly (shorter than the quarter note duration shown) by loosening your fretting fingers right after you strum. Having this kind of easy control over how long notes ring is one of the big benefits of using chord forms with no open strings. Now check out one more set of movable shapes, for the jazzy major seventh, major ninth, sixth, minor seventh, and diminished chords. Play through the grips in Example 6. With the Gmaj7 and Gmaj9 in measure 2, you can also move the bass note from the fifth string to the sixth at the same fret in order to put a D in the bass instead of the root. In measure 3, the second G6 is just a reduction of the first. The last chord in this series, Cdim, may look familiar: it’s the same shape used for the E7/B in Example 5, just one fret higher. In fact, this Cdim shape could be considered an F7/C. Similarly, the G9/B shape in Example 4, measure 4, could also be called a Bm7♭5 (jumping ahead in the lesson, you can see this shape in Example 10, measure 12, as a C♯m7♭5). Sometimes the same chord shape can serve different purposes, and have different names, depending on the key of the song and the chord’s function in the progression. In Example 7, practice moving between a Gmaj7 and a C9/G. This is the main chord change in the off-the-beaten-track Pink Floyd tune “San Tropez.” The pattern in Example 8, Gmaj7 to Dmaj7, is similar to what John Mayer uses in “Clarity”; play fingerstyle and add the backbeat percussion (marked with X in the notation) with light slaps on the strings with your fretting hand. For additional practice with major seventh chords, check out ’70s hits by America like “Tin Man,” which mostly moves between Gmaj7 and Cmaj7 chords. Finally, in Example 9, play a swing-style turnaround that, in numbers terms, goes from I (in this case, G6) to ♯Idim (G♯dim) to ii (Am7) to V (D7/A). Your fingers remain on the sixth, fourth, and third strings throughout and only move a couple of frets—it’s a very efficient pattern. Swing Time To wrap up this lesson, play a longer progression that uses a variety of chord shapes covered in the previous examples. The inspiration for Example 10 is the Beatles’ “Honey Pie,” written by Paul McCartney as an homage to the vaudeville songs he and John Lennon loved growing up. The example uses a lot of string percussion on the backbeats, in big-band swing style; the basic pattern is to strum on beats 1 and 3 and loosen your fretting hand to get snare-drum-like snaps on beats 2 and 4. In measures 7 and 8, play a turnaround similar to the one in Example 9, in this case going from I (G6 and then G/B) to ♭VI (E♭7/B♭) to V (D7/A). In measure 9, there’s a long but quick slide up the neck to the F♯ at the ninth fret that launches into the second section of the song. In measure 18, jump back to the top for one last run through of the first section. Add a clarinet (or kazoo!) solo over these changes and you’ll really get the party started. As you are working on your own songs and arrangements, if you feel boxed in by barre chords, try substituting these movable shapes. Look for groups of chord voicings that are close together on the neck, so you can move easily from chord to chord, and try the progression in a few locations—below the fifth fret, around the middle of the neck, and up high. You are bound to discover some new sounds, and your fingers will no doubt appreciate the break from barre hopping. https://vimeo.com/701416424 Dropped D in Other Keys Most songs played in dropped-D tuning are, naturally enough, in the key of D—or they use key-of-D fingerings transposed up with a capo. In a dropped-D classic like Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon,” the tuning gives a deep, open-string root under the D chord (the I chord in the key of D), and it sounds great when that low D rings along with the higher D an octave up on the open fourth string. All the examples in the Dropped-D Tuning intro lesson in this guide are in D. Dropped D tuning isn’t only good for the key of D, though. John Mayer tunes his guitar to dropped D for “Your Body Is a Wonderland” (in the key of F with no capo); Dave Matthews uses it in “Crush” (Bm), and so did Nirvana in “Something in the Way” (with F♯m fingerings in a lowered version of dropped D). I’ve been hooked on dropped D for years, and I use it for original songs and arrangements not only in D but also in G, A, Em, and even E , without a capo. When you use dropped D in keys other than D, you can still take advantage of that sixth-string D note—it just fits with chords other than the I. Even when you’re not playing the open sixth string, dropped-D tuning makes possible some nice chord voicings that work in many keys. In this lesson, explore some of the less common, and great-sounding, uses of dropped D. Key of G First, tune your guitar to dropped D by lowering the sixth string E down a whole step to D. To get your bearings, play through the chords in Example 1, all of which include the sixth string. (Chords with roots on the fifth string, such as various forms of A, B, and C, can be played the same as in standard tuning.) Most of these shapes were introduced in the Dropped D Tuning lesson, but there are a few new ones too, such as the D5 fingering, which gives you a powerful D drone on the bottom three strings. Example 2 uses a few of those chord positions in a simple progression in the key of G, in which D is the V chord. When you move from G to Em to D, dropped D allows you descend to the D bass note rather than jumping up to a weaker D bass note on the fourth string, as you would do in standard tuning. In measures 6 and 7, play a bass run on the sixth string leading from D to G, and in measure 8, lift up your third finger in the G5 chord position to play a low alternating bass note on the open sixth string. None of these sounds would be possible in standard tuning. Example 3 shows another use of dropped D in the key of G, in a pattern similar to the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil.” While that song’s signature line, a descending G major scale, normally starts on the third or fourth string, dropped D allows you to play the first half an octave lower. Don’t bother holding down the full chord fingerings for G and C—only fret the notes you need in the tab. The example starts with a walk-up from D to G on the sixth string. In the last measure, a quick slide up to the fifth fret on the sixth string helps you to stay in time as you make the shift back to G. If you try playing “Friend of the Devil” in dropped D through the chorus and bridge—both of which hang on the D chord for long stretches—you’ll find that having a low D bass note available really beefs up the accompaniment. Key of A Now check out the key of A, in which D is the frequently used IV chord. Example 4 is a classic rock rhythm pattern that I use in, for instance, an arrangement of Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up.” The A5 part starts out the same as it would be in standard tuning, but when the progression shifts to D5 (as “Pump It Up” does in the chorus), dropped D gives you a big, brawny sound on the sixth and fifth strings. Use palm muting and play with downstrokes (except for the occasional upstrokes as shown), and also try adding a slight bend to the G notes at the fifth fret on the sixth string (measures 4 and 8) for a bluesy touch. Example 5, also in the key of A, is a variation on the ubiquitous “Stand By Me” progression (I–vi–IV–V) that I use in my song “Take Me in Your Arms (Possibility).” The example has a soft, reflective feel and can be played either fingerstyle or with a pick. Use a first-finger barre for the A, adding a hammer-on with your ring finger in measures 1 and 7, and an F♯m7 instead of a straight F♯m. Then comes the real payoff for using dropped D: the lush Dmaj7 (no third) with a low bass note. This unusual voicing brings a fresh twist to a standard chord progression. Dropped D works well in the key of Am, too. Example 6, drawn from my song “The Day After Yesterday,” moves from Am to C to D (I also capo at the fourth fret, so the actual chords that sound are C♯m, E, and F♯) with mostly bass notes. Play with a swing feel and a light touch. E Minor and Other Keys Try the key of Em in Example 7, inspired by Terence Trent D’Arby’s “Sign Your Name.” When I was arranging this tune, there was a bass line on the record I wanted to play down low, but I didn’t have the notes available in standard tuning—so I tried dropped D and found this pattern. Play the Em and the A with a first-finger barre, and lift up the barre to play the open strings below. Use pull-offs as shown to smooth out the single-note lines. For the bends in measures 4 and 8, push the fourth string to bend up a half step, and then release to go back to the original pitch. In the last two bars, move from a D with the open sixth string to a particularly sweet voicing of B7 with D♯ in the bass. To wrap up this lesson, here are a few more examples in other keys. Example 8, in the key of F♯m, is similar to what Kurt Cobain played in Nirvana's "Something in the Way" (with his guitar tuned down a half step, to C♯ on the sixth string, on the MTV Unplugged in New York version). Play the three-string F♯5 with a barre, using whichever finger feels the most comfortable. The change from F♯5 to D5 sets an eerie mood. You can get a lot of mileage out of sliding that one-finger power chord around the neck—Dave Matthews does that a lot in the jam sections of “Crush.” Try Example 9, in the key of G minor. Slide up to the eighth fret for a B♭5 and then down to an F5 at the third fret. Use the open bass strings at the ends of measures 2 and 3 as a transition into next chord—this also gives your barre finger a momentary break. Many hard rock songs are based around this kind of movement, often in a lowered version of dropped D. Finally, in Example 10, move up the neck to play dropped-D chord forms similar to what John Mayer uses in “Your Body Is a Wonderland.” No open strings apply here, so these shapes can be moved anywhere on the neck. Wb hat dropped D does is facilitate the bass line from F to C to B♭ (I–V–IV) and back again, all in easy reach without changing position. Keep your fingers planted at the tenth fret on the third and fourth strings while the bass line moves below. Think of other songs you know in he keys covered in this lesson (G, A, Am, F♯m, and F) and try playing them in dropped D. You may discover some new chord voicings and bass lines that take advantage of the extra range—and get you outside of the standard sounds of standard tuning. https://vimeo.com/701413578 Low-Bass Tunings Alternate tunings on the guitar have many allures: they open the door to unconventional sounds, generate complex chords with easy fingerings, and extend the range of the instrument. But tunings have drawbacks, too. Since the pitches of the strings have changed and standard chord shapes and scales no longer apply, an unfamiliar tuning can leave you disoriented and fumbling on the fingerboard. And in performance, constantly retuning can be a drag for you and the audience, stalling the momentum of your show. Fortunately there is a way to get some of that alternate-tuning mojo without straying too far from what you know: by retuning the bass strings while leaving the rest in standard tuning. This is the idea behind dropped-D tuning—a quick and straightforward adjustment from standard tuning that significantly extends the low end. If you explore beyond dropped D and lower the bass strings a bit more, you can access a whole range of sounds that are further off the beaten track yet still easy to wrap your fingers and head around. That’s what you’ll do in this lesson, using two lowered bass tunings, G6 and dropped C, as employed by such guitar luminaries as Lonnie Johnson, Chet Atkins, Lindsey Buckingham, and Richard Thompson. G6 Tuning First, get set in G6 tuning: from low to high, the notes are D G D G B E. Tune your sixth string down to D (as in dropped D), and lower the fifth string to G. Check the octaves: the sixth string is an octave below the fourth string, and the fifth string is an octave below the third string. If you were to tune the first string down to D, you’d be in open-G tuning, with a G major chord on all the open strings. But leave the first string tuned to E, which gives you the notes of a G6 chord. The top four strings are still in standard tuning. To get oriented in G6 tuning, play through the chord shapes in Example 1. With the G chords, you’ll immediately see how nice it is to have a G bass note on the open fifth string. That means you can easily move up the neck on the treble strings—up to the seventh or tenth fret, as shown in measures 2 and 3, or higher—and still have a low root.(If you want to put a low D, the fifth of a G chord, in the bass, you can add in the open sixth string as well.) With the D shapes, you can also take advantage of the low open-string root (D on the sixth string) to play up the neck and still have a deep bass note, as in measure 5. Play the D in measure 4 as a first-finger barre. For a C chord, you have to move up to the fifth fret to play a root in the bass, but the open-position C/G in measure 6 is a rich voicing too. Some of these chord shapes are movable, including the C in measure 6, the Am in measures 7 and 8 (if you leave out the open first string), the Am7 in measure 9, and the F in measure 10. Try moving these shapes around the neck to form different chords. Now play Example 2, a fingerpicking pattern in a relaxed style reminiscent of Hawaiian slack key. Use the low D on the sixth string for the alternating bass under the G and D chords. The example makes the most of the open strings and adds a little melody over the ringing bass notes. G6 tuning works beautifully for melodic fingerstyle, as you can hear, for instance, in Chet Atkins’ renditions of “Vincent,” “Yellow Bird,” and “Wreck of the John B”; Eric Lugosch’s arrangement of “The Eighth of January”; and Don Ross’ tune “Leger de Main.” Check out a couple more examples of what you can do in G6 tuning. Example 3 is a little waltz that demonstrates how the tuning makes it easy to play melodies and chords up the neck. Start in seventh position, and in measures 5 and 6 take advantage of the open strings to maneuver down to open position and then climb back up in the last two bars. G6 tuning isn’t just good for gentle, lyrical songs. Early blues/jazz pioneer Lonnie Johnson used the tuning on blues workouts such as “Blues in G” and “Away Down in the Alley Blues.” Doyle Dykes’ blazing instrumental “Hurricanes, Earthquakes, and Tomatoes” is also in G6, as are Catie Curtis’ R&B-flavored “I Still Want To” and a bunch of hard-rocking Soundgarden songs, such as “Superunknown.” Example 4, the rhythm pattern from my song “Bones,” takes G6 tuning in an acoustic rock direction. Play fingerstyle, using a thumb slap on the G chord as shown in measures 2, 4, 6, and 8, and percussive slaps with your picking hand on the backbeats (beats 2 and 4) throughout. In the chorus (starting in measure 10), the tuning facilitates a cool bass line that descends by half steps under a partial C chord. In the second to last measure, slap the open sixth string twice with your thumb for a little extra propulsion. It feels good. Down to Dropped C For the remainder of this lesson, detune a little more: leave the fifth string at G, but drop the sixth string an additional step to C. Now the note on the sixth string, seventh fret, should match the open fifth string. People refer to this tuning by different names—let’s called it dropped C. You can hear dropped C at work in Chet Atkins’ “Just As I Am,” in slack-key pieces such as Keola Beamer’s “Kapalua Bay,” in Fleetwood Mac’s “Never Going Back Again” (where Lindsey Buckingham capoed up at the sixth fret), and in Richard Thompson’s ever-popular “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” (capo three). In a song of mine called “My Bad,” the tuning makes possible the funky bass-line hook. Any of the chord shapes from Example 1 that use the top five strings still work in dropped C, but listen to those delicious C chords you get in Example 5. Try out the D, E, and F shapes too, which are adjusted for the low C on the sixth string. Note that the big D barre chord shape in measure 3 is movable, as are the E5 and F5 in measure 5. Now play Example 6, inspired by “1952 Vincent Black Lightning.” Get your thumb alternating between the fifth and fourth strings under the G and add the single-note riffs on the top two strings, keeping your first finger planted at the third fret (capo up as indicated to make the stretches easier for your fretting hand). Thompson’s intro riff is fancier than this, and he plays at a motorcycle racer’s tempo, but the basic idea is the same. The payoff for the tuning comes in measure 4, where you can play that sweet, low bass note under the C. I’ve written the bass as alternating between the sixth and fourth strings on the C chord, but you could also go between the sixth and fifth strings. Once you’ve got the G alternating bass locked in, try improvising riffs over it on the treble strings—as Thompson does. Finally, Example 7 comes from my arrangement of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground,” where I loosely adapted the funky clavinet part into a kind of hopped-up country blues. If you want to sing, try different capo positions to find a comfortable key (I capo at the fourth fret to play/sing in the key of B). To match the original key, you have to capo all the way up at the eighth fret. I use a pick for this arrangement, but fingerstyle works great, too. Play with a swing feel throughout—that means you play pairs of eighth notes as if they were the first and third notes of a triplet (the first note is longer, and the second is shorter). Use hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides to spice things up. (I’ve indicated a few.) When you hit the chorus, in measure 9, slide your first finger up to the fifth fret, and then fall off going back to the open strings—play like your finger is a bottleneck. All of the examples in this lesson have been in the key of G, but bear in mind that you can play in these tunings in other keys as well. Try a song in the key of D in G6 tuning, for instance, or in the key of C in dropped C tuning. And, of course, you can always capo up to play in other keys. Even though your bass notes won’t be as low with the capo, you’ll have the same intervals between strings that give the tuning its special character. https://vimeo.com/701411467 Partial Capoing If you’re drawn to the creative possibilities of alternate tunIngs but don’t want to lose your bearings on the fingerboard, a partial capo may be just the ticket. Like an alternate tuning, a partial capo changes the intervals between the open strings, enabling you to find chord voicings and melodic ideas that might not have occurred to you—or wouldn’t be possible—with standard tuning or a standard capo. And yet with a partial capo you can keep your strings in standard tuning, so that when you fret notes above the capo, everything works in the usual way. Much of what you know how to play still applies. A partial capo provides, in many ways, an ideal mix of the familiar and the unexpected. For performing, too, partial capos are a great tool, since they allow you to switch quickly into an alternate tuning–type setup and then back to standard while sparing you—and your audience—a lot of retuning time. You can find partial capos in many varieties, typically covering five, four, or three strings while leaving the others open. For the uninitiated, a great starting place is a five-string capo. You can buy a capo designed for this purpose, such as the Shubb C8, Kyser Drop-D, D’Addario/Planet Waves NS Drop Tune, Liberty Flip Model 65, and G7th Newport Partial #5. (Also, the Spider capo allows you to choose which strings to leave open, so it can handle any partial capo configuration.) These models will be the most stable for five-string capoing, but you can also try out this setup with any regular capo that doesn’t wrap around the neck. Just place the capo off center to leave one string open. So grab your capo, and in this lesson, check out some enticing sounds you can get with five-string capoing. Dropped-D Capoing The most common use of the five-string capo is for what’s often called a dropped-D capo position, because it gives you sounds similar to dropped-D tuning. The name is a little misleading, though—the capo raises the pitches by a whole step, so a D shape actually sounds as an E. With your guitar in standard tuning, place a capo at the second fret covering the top five strings; leave the sixth string un-capoed. Hold down a D chord shape, as in Example 1, strum all six strings, and listen to that big sound—so much fuller than the D chord you normally play with the root on the fourth string. Switch to a Dm shape, as shown, and again revel in the ring of all those low open strings. Now try the other chords in the example: G, A, F, and C. If the shapes look and sound familiar, that’s because they are exactly the same as in standard tuning—you are in standard tuning. The only time the partial capo affects the sound is when you leave the sixth string open. In Example 2, put a few of these shapes into practice in a short progression from D to G to A. On the D you’ve got that low bass note on the sixth string, but the G and A are the standard open chords, unaffected by the partial capo. As with dropped-D tuning, you can play cool-sounding bass runs with this partial capo position. That’s the focus in Example 3, based on Gillian Welch’s “Tear My Stillhouse Down.” Throughout this example, mix bass notes and strums; go from chord to chord via runs on the bottom three strings. For the quarter-step bends, give the string a slight pull (toward the treble side of the neck) for a little bluesy edge. You could play essentially this same pattern in dropped-D tuning, but the nice thing about the partial capo is that your G note on the sixth string is in its usual spot, three frets above the capo. If you were in dropped D, you’d have to slide up to the fifth fret to reach that bass note. Fretting at Zero One wrinkle with the five-string capo comes when you want to play an E chord shape or anything else that would normally use the open sixth string. With the partial capo, the open sixth string is effectively lowered by a whole step—it rings two frets below the capo. So if you’re playing an E shape and want a sixth-string bass note, you need to fret the sixth string alongside the capo. If you think of the capo position as zero, essentially you’re holding down the zero fret. It’s a somewhat awkward maneuver but gets easier with practice. Example 4, a progression similar to James Taylor’s “Carolina in My Mind,” includes a few E-minor shapes with the sixth string fretted alongside the capo. Start on a D to G, then walk down the sixth string from G to Em. For the Em, fret the fifth and fourth strings with your third and fourth fingers, and grab the sixth string with your first. Your first finger should be in front of the capo (toward the soundhole), angled so the fingertip reaches over to the second fret. If you can move the capo a bit further from the fret (toward the nut) and still get a clean sound, you’ll make more room for your first finger to get in this position. The example goes three times between Em and A chords—that gives you more practice fretting alongside the capo. Then in measures 3 and 4, play a descending bass line starting from the open fourth string. Wrap up the example with a JT-esque hammer-on/pull-off figure, bolstered by the low bass note on the sixth string, thanks to the partial capo. Open-String Freedom Next, play an example inspired by the Grateful Dead’s “Althea.” The main chord progression of this Deadhead favorite goes Bm–A–E–A, and neither Jerry Garcia nor Bob Weir used a capo—their whole style relied on being able to travel anywhere on the neck at any time, rather than being fixed in one position. But when I was arranging “Althea,” I used the five-string partial capo because it gave me a lot of freedom to use open strings and add lead lines. With the capo at the second fret, the main chord shapes became Am–G–D5–G, as shown in Example 5. Because of the partial capo, you have an open bass string for the Am shape; in measure 2, walk up to it chromatically on the sixth string. Use a little palm muting to deepen the groove. In measure 5, take advantage of the capoed open strings by adding some short single-note phrases. In my full arrangement of “Althea” (included in my Homespun video series on Dead songs for acoustic guitar), I carry this idea further with instrumental interludes that mix single-note soloing with bass notes and chords, in a way that would be tough to pull off without the partial capo. Further on Down the Road You can expand the range of a five-string partial capo by tuning the sixth string down—to D or C, for instance. One of my songs, “Turn Away,” uses a five-string capo at the second fret, as in this lesson, but with the sixth string down to D. This way, when I play a C shape (which sounds as a D), I’ve got an open bass note on the sixth string that adds real depth to the sound. Try a little sample in Example 6, just moving between Am and C shapes. These examples are just the tip of the iceberg of what you can do with the five-string capo. Take advantage of the open-string bass notes by moving up the neck on the treble strings. Experiment with the partial capo in other positions, too—put it at the fourth fret and play a C shape with the sixth string open, or put it at the seventh fret and play A or Am shapes, again with the open sixth string. You can also flip the capo around to leave the first string open rather than the sixth. If you get hooked on the five-string partial capo and want to explore further, check out three-string models like the Shubb C7B and Kyser Short-Cut. If you put one of these capos at the second fret covering strings 5, 4, and 3, you’ve got an instant Esus4 chord—it’s a lot like playing in DADGAD tuning up a step (and without retuning!). I use this Esus4 partial capo setup in a bunch of songs, such as my original “What I Never Said.” Flip a three-string capo around the other way at the second fret, so it covers strings 4, 3, and 2, and you’ve got a no-fretting A chord. Dan Bern performs his signature song “Jerusalem” this way. With any of these setups, you’ll quickly discover nonstandard sounds—without leaving standard tuning. About the Author Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers has combined his twin passions for words and music into a multifaceted career as a musician, author, and teacher. A grand-prize winner in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, Rodgers performs original folk rock with masterful band-in-a-box accompaniment on acoustic guitar. He has released five solo albums, plus a best-selling Homespun video series teaching his acoustic arrangements of Grateful Dead songs. Based in upstate New York, Rodgers performs solo, with the duo Pepper and Sassafras, and with a full acoustic band. He has collaborated with fiddler/singer Rani Arbo in concert and in the studio; backed up artists onstage including Dan Bern, Celia Woodsmith (Della Mae), and Maura Kennedy; and opened for John Gorka, Peter Case, Eric Bibb, Cheryl Wheeler, Peter Mulvey, Jeffrey Foucault, and more. Rodgers is also the founding editor of Acoustic Guitar magazine and a contributor to NPR’s All Things Considered. His books include Teach Yourself Guitar Basics and The Complete Singer-Songwriter, recently published by Backbeat Books in an expanded second edition, which includes advice and anecdotes from his firsthand interviews with artists such as Joni Mitchell, John Mayer, Paul Simon, Ani DiFranco, James Taylor, John Fogerty, Jason Mraz, and Jerry Garcia. A “renowned guitar teacher” (Boston Globe), Rodgers leads workshops on guitar and songwriting, and teaches courses on songwriting and creative nonfiction writing in the honors program at Syracuse University. Find online lessons, interviews, and more at jeffreypepperrodgers.com.